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Melbourne | Court decision up to Aussie fans…

Melbourne | Court decision up to Aussie fans…

Australian Open boss Craig Tiley says it will be up to spectators to decide how they respond to Margaret Court’s appearance as a special guest in January.

There are people that have tried to speak to her, to get that message across but it hasn't worked, She is a very strong-[willed] individual, she has been her entire career. She hasn't taken heed of that yet. Todd Woodbrige

Tennis Australia recently announced it would recognise but not celebrate the 50th anniversary of Court’s Grand Slam year.

It will be 3 years since her last appearance at the event in 2017, when her vehement opposition to same-sex marriage became a flashpoint in the marriage equality campaign.

In November, Court told The Age she hoped to be invited to the 2020 event and be celebrated similarly to Rod Laver, who earlier this year was feted at the Open for his own half-century Grand Slam anniversary.

Several weeks later, Tennis Australia confirmed Court would be invited as a ‘special guest’ to ‘participate in a significant program of events throughout the tournament’, but strongly condemned her social views.

The decision to invite Court was criticised by Equality Australia and the Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby.

Mr Tiley said fans would have the right to express their condemnation or support of Court in any way they chose.

Asked if he was concerned about packed stadiums potentially booing Court, Mr Tiley said: “It’s going to be really up to what the fans want to express.”

Mr Tiley said any potential for protests would be dealt with in collaboration with police and private security contractors, whom he said had processes in place that mitigate any potential action.

“Historically, we’ve been in a very strong position in relation to the behaviour of our fans,” he said.

Court is the most successful player in the history of tennis, winning an unsurpassed 24 major singles titles and 64 major titles.

In 1970 she dominated the women’s tour, winning all four majors, a feat known as the ‘Grand Slam’.

Todd Woodbridge, however, says Court will not be able to use the Australian Open as a platform for her views opposing homosexuality after accepting an invitation to the tournament to mark the 50th anniversary of her Grand Slam.

Tennis Australia sent a television crew to visit Court at her home in Western Australia and film a documentary focusing on her tennis career, which will be shown at the tournament, and they will host a number of other events during her visit.

“There are people that have tried to speak to her, to get that message across but it hasn’t worked,” Woodbridge told Channel Nine’s Sports Sunday.

“She is a very strong-[willed] individual, she has been her entire career. She hasn’t taken heed of that yet.

“But what this statement does is that it takes away her platform to use her tennis to drive her other views.

“That’s hugely important. This separates them.

“You [Court] can take those views elsewhere, you can’t use them here at the Australian Open.”

Meanwhile, Court’s children released an open letter hitting back at Tennis Australia, after they made an extraordinary public statement distancing itself from her views.

In their own joint letter, the four children of the 77-year-old responded, saying they are ‘disappointed’ with how Tennis Australia has handled the situation.

“How blessed we are to have the greatest Mum, Margaret Court,” they wrote.

“Mum is known world-wide for her tennis achievements for 64 grand slams, greater than any man or woman. She heads a Church of thousands and helps many with food handouts daily.”

The letter continued: “It is hard for her family to understand how her current lifestyle would possibly affect her Tennis Career in any way.

“It is disappointing to see Tennis Australia in the Open Letter amalgamating her sporting career which she won for her Nation.

“We hope in this great Nation of ours that generations to come will continue to have freedom of speech to stand for what they believe in.”

Margaret Court herself also responded, saying that she will attend next year’s Australian Open:

“This is an incredible milestone for me, and I can’t quite believe how quickly the time has gone It’s always wonderful to catch up with my fellow legends and I’m grateful to Tennis Australia.

“Tennis is a wonderful sport and I’m proud to be part of the history of our great game.”

Meanwhile, Mr Tiley announced that ticket sales for the Open were ‘significantly’ up on last year’s sales at the same time last year.

He said this was driven by several features of next month’s event: Rafael Nadal’s potential equalling of Roger Federer’s Grand Slam record; Serena Williams’ potential equalling of Court’s Grand Slam record; and Ashleigh Barty’s popularity and World No 1 ranking.

Mr Tiley said the forecast for heat was not likely to be more extreme than last year’s event, adding that the tournament ‘led the world’ in dealing with extreme conditions, with new initiatives like the $1 million shaded grandstand over Show Court 3 set to bolster Melbourne Park’s protection from the sun.

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