Alison van Uytvanck played her most emotional match of 2019 far from the Grand Slam spotlight. In between Wimbledon and the US summer hardcourt swing, the former French Open quarterfinalist flew to a WTA 125K Series tournament in Karlsruhe, where she survived a 6-4, 1-6, 6-1 scoreline against girlfriend and fellow WTA pro Greet Minnen.
Fans captured the WTA power couple and their affectionate at-net embrace, which went on to light up social media.
“It went a bit viral,” Van Uytvanck recalled in a phone interview ahead of Pride Month. “Within a day, we ended up with over 1000 new followers. So we were like, ‘What is going on?’
“After the match, we had a lot of people writing us on social media, saying that it was good that we hugged and gave each other a kiss at the net. This was nice, and we had a lot of positive reaction. Later when I was in New York, I met a man who told me he was gay and that I was his inspiration to come out.
“It may not have been nice to have to play each other, but it was nice to have such a positive outcome.”
Currently quarantining together in Belgium, Van Uytvanck and Minnen first met as they came up together within their country’s federation, and have been dating just over four years. They ended the 2018 season with their first doubles title as a couple at the BGL BNP Luxembourg Open – made extra special as it was Minnen’s first WTA title of any kind.
“On the tour, we weren’t really scared of reactions,” the former World No.37 said of coming out. “I think it happens more in women’s tennis. We may have been more scared about our family and friends in the beginning, but it all went well. We’re just happy, so that’s a good thing.”
“It’s amazing that we could share the same passion, play doubles together, and just be partners on and off the court,” Minnen added. “For us, it’s amazing to do everything together.”
As the tour continues its COVID-19 suspension, the definition of “everything” has expanded to taking care of a dog, completing puzzles, and studying to attain coaching certifications - and brushing up on their dance moves for Instagram.
“We’re not practicing full out at the moment, because we know it could still be a long time before tournaments start again,” Van Uytvanck said back in May. “We practice together sometimes, and other times we have private lessons with coaches. We typically do one session of practice and another of conditioning, nothing more at the moment.”
While Van Uytvanck was seeing her results stabilize after an illness upset the start of her season – pushing Petra Kvitova, Elena Rybakina, and Sofia Kenin all to three sets – Minnen was on an impressive upswing of her own, qualifying for her first Grand Slam singles tournament at the Australian Open and reaching the second round. By the beginning of March, she was on the precipice of a Top 100 debut.
“In the beginning, I wasn’t where I wanted to be, ranked outside the Top 300 when we started dating,” Minnen said. “She was already a Top 50 player, doing really well. It was just amazing to practice with her and go to big tournaments with her. It was really good for me to see how everything went. Now that I’m there on my own, it’s nice to be able to play the same tournaments together.”
Van Uytvanck awaits Minnen’s milestone just as eagerly.
“It’s actually only been about a year that we could travel together. At first, it was more like we wouldn’t see each other that much. Sometimes she would come with me for one week or I would spend a week at her tournament. Now that we’re able to play tournaments together, we can go out, visit the city, and you’re not alone at least.”
The pair hopes their increased visibility is a testament to how far the sporting world has come from the days of Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, both champions and LGBTQ pioneers.
“They are big role models for us,” Minnen admitted. “They really helped the next generation, not just by coming out, but everything they did for tennis. They’re really big people for the sport. For us, it helps to have us as an example.
“I think it’s very important for everyone to be themselves and to be open and honest about everything. Whether it’s coming out or just in general, I think everyone should be, not forgiving because it’s not a crime, but everyone should be able to be themselves.”
Asked if she shared that sentiment, Van Uytvanck laughed.
“We think the same way about these things.”