Meet Renee Richards, the only tennis player to have played in US Open men’s and women’s events
Former US tennis player Renee Richards who played between the 1950s and 1970s is remembered not for her sensational results and titles, but for being the only player involved in both US Open men’s and women’s tournaments.
Renee is reportedly the first transgender professional sports star. Born to Russian immigrants, Richard Raskind, at that time, grew up in New York where he attended a private school.
As a tall and well-built youngster he tried various sports, including swimming and baseball, before settling on tennis as his real passion.
However, instead of embarking on a full-time tennis career Raskind preferred to concentrate on studying medicine, finishing the University of Rochester where he studied ophthalmology.
He still found time to play tennis, participating in the US Open between 1953 and 1960.Despite a seemingly successful life, the well-respected eye-surgeon, who married a model, felt “trapped in a man’s body” and tried on women’s dresses and high heels when alone.Also on rt.com 5 athletes who underwent gender reassignment
In 1975, at the age of 41, he underwent sex reassignment surgery, changing his name to Renee (meaning ‘reborn’ in French).
Having taken part in the first tennis event as a female player, Renee faced an avalanche of criticism and was accused of having “muscular advantages” over women.
“Women’s Winner Was a Man” was one headline that made the papers.
After she was banned from competing in the women’s tour, Renee took the issue to the New York Supreme Court which ruled in her favor, and allowed the player to continue competing in women’s competitions.
In 1977, she reached the US Open doubles final, where she and her partner Betty-Ann Stuart were defeated by Martina Navratilova and Betty Stove.
With the transgender issue in sports flaring up again today, many advocates use Renee’s story as an example of a fair approach to athletes, including those who preferred to choose their sex.
Those speaking in defence of transgender athletes insist that she didn’t have any significant advantage over her competitors, having lost so many matches to female players, including Navratilova.
However, the athlete herself admits that changing sex at the age of 20 is much different from doing so at the age of 40, adding that she could have dominated women’s tennis if she had the surgery earlier.
“If I had played [women’s tennis] in my 20s, I would have won Wimbledon,” she said.
She also added that her potential dominance would not have helped to promote women’s tennis. “I would have quit. That wouldn’t have been good for anyone. Not me and not women’s tennis.”