The XX Factor

Tennis Star Thinks Women Don’t Belong on the Pro Tour

Ernests Gulbis, not enjoying life

Photo by Leon Neal/AFP/GettyImages

Latvian tennis player Ernests Gulbis, of the curly flop and wagging tongue, has made a baffling contribution to the discussion of women in tennis and women in general. The 25-year-old athlete, ranked No. 17 in the world, just swung his way into the fourth round of the French Open, where he’ll face Roger Federer, one of four tennis stars he last year accused of being “boring.” Gulbis, unboring, spoke to an interviewer about his younger sisters Laura Gulbe and Monika Kavace, who also play tennis*:

Q. You have two younger sisters that play tennis, as well. Are they going to be as good as you? When was the last time you played with them?

ERNESTS GULBIS: Hopefully they will not pursue professional tennis career. Hopefully. Because for a woman, it’s tough. I wouldn’t like my sisters to become professional tennis players. It’s tough choice of life.

A woman needs to enjoy life a little bit more. Needs to think about family, needs to think about kids. What kids you can think about until age of 27 if you’re playing professional tennis, you know.

That’s tough for a woman, I think.

This is an athletic statement in that it manages to strike several offensive poses at once, all seemingly without intending to upset anyone. Gulbis thinks being a professional tennis player is too “tough” for a woman, whereas raising kids and ministering to your husband is easy and enjoyable. He thinks women “need” to occupy themselves with house and home. He thinks the domestic sphere automatically ejects any female creature who attempts entry after her 27th birthday, like that huge diaphanous bubble in Oz the Great and Powerful that keeps out anyone with evil in his heart. And he mantles all this in chivalry and big-brotherly concern: He just wants women, especially his sisters, to reap the happiness they deserve.

I’m not sure that being an international tennis star worth $4,223,074 in prize money alone automatically precludes you from tasting the draughts of bliss, but even if it did, Gulbis is wrong that female tennis players can’t have families too. To name just a few examples, Hall-of-Famer Lindsay Davenport married Jonathan Leach in 2003, seven years before her final Grand Slam appearance in 2011, and has four children. Former World No. 1 Steffi Graf, one of the most decorated players in tennis history, has a son and a daughter with her husband Andre Agassi. Kim Clijsters came out of retirement after giving birth to her first kid, Jada, to win three more Grand Slams. (She’s racked up 41 WTA singles titles in her legendary career.) Tracy Austin has three sons. And in addition to all the women who have managed to both excel on court and share in the joys of family—sometimes simultaneously!—there are many, many fathers and expecting fathers who’ve done the same: Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Pete Sampras, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick, I could go on.

Anyway, this latest quote should at least make for some interesting conversations around the Gulbis dinner table.

*Correction, May 30, 2014: The post originally misspelled the first name of Gulbis’ sister Monika Kavace.