Everyone has their favourite tennis player. Whether you like Andy Murray’s undemonstrative dedication, Roger Federer’s effortless grace, or Serena Williams’ bombastic mastery, there’s bound to be a player out there who embodies your personal idea of what tennis should be. That’s not what we want to talk about today, though. Today, we want to celebrate all the people off the pitch who make tennis what it is. Players make the sport entertaining to watch, but tennis would be nothing without everyone who clubs together to make it a truly unforgettable experience. Here are some of our favourite unsung legends off the tennis court.
If you’ve ever watched tennis on the BBC, then you’ve heard Andrew Castle’s soothing, authoritative voice. He’s the leading tennis commentator in the UK, and he’s been present for a huge amount of tennis history. As an interview with Betway makes clear, Castle loves putting his voice to big moments in the tennis calendar, and he’s never happier than when he’s watching centre court at Wimbledon. He’s also got very kind words to say about his co-workers, including legendary curmudgeon John McEnroe (who may well make an appearance later on in this list!). Andrew Castle is an all-around positive force in the world of tennis.
Former ESPN head honcho John Skipper (whose name feels particularly apt in this circumstance) is responsible for bringing Wimbledon and the other four major grand slam tournaments under a unified umbrella. Skipper is famous for saying that it’s not necessary to have American tennis players competing at the top level in order for Americans to be interested in the sport, and he’s absolutely right. He’s also championed women’s tennis, and during a time when the relationship between the sporting world and sexism is more fractious than ever, Skipper’s words – which emphasised play quality and star power over identity – ring true.
Stacey Allaster may not be the current head of the Women’s Tennis Association, but she’s arguably the most influential figure to have ever held the post. Allaster campaigned tirelessly for equal prize pots for both men and women, trying to elevate women’s tennis to its deserved position alongside the sport played by the guys. She had to face widespread sexism and skepticism in the world of tennis about women, but she took it all head-on with a determined, focused attitude, and that deserves to be celebrated. Women’s tennis – and, for that matter, men’s tennis – wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for Stacey Allaster.
What would any discussion of tennis’ greatest legends be without McEnroe? True, he’s not really “unsung”, per se – he’s actually one of the most recognisable and well-remembered tennis personalities in the world. His opinions and the way he expresses them may be controversial, but McEnroe has never been afraid to speak his mind and stand his ground. Contrary to his on-court persona, McEnroe is gentle, calm, and collected when he commentates, although that doesn’t mean he pulls any punches. Some of the things he’s said are somewhat controversial and retrograde, but he’s still one of the most skilled analysts around when it comes to tennis.
After an incredibly successful career on the court, Martina Navratilova has taken up commentating and activism off the court, and it’s proven just as successful for her. Despite some controversial opinions – mostly surrounding trans athletes – Navratilova has been an outspoken champion of women’s sport and of inclusivity, which has netted her not only a place on this list (prestigious, we’re sure you’ll agree!) but also a place in many tennis players’ and fans’ hearts. You can also often hear her commentating on major tennis events such as Wimbledon and several grand slam tournaments, and her insight is witty, precise, and warm.
You might not have heard Nick Bollettieri’s name, especially if you’re not a regular tennis aficionado. Bollettieri founded one of the most influential and prestigious tennis academies in the world; it was at the Bradenton, Florida venue that greats like Monica Seles, Andre Agassi, and Maria Sharapova got their starts. Remarkably, Bollettieri is now 89 years old, and he shows no signs of slowing down. He’s now a teacher, a motivational speaker, and a tennis pundit, and he’s also published a fascinating autobiography that’s well worth a look. If you want to know where the modern tennis style comes from, look no further than Nick Bollettieri.
Before Li Na, tennis was a marginal sport in China. Li Na opened the door for professional Asian tennis players to make inroads into the traditionally Western sport, and she’s now considered one of the most influential – if not the most influential – Asian sports personalities of all time. She retired in 2014 at the ripe old age of 32 (tennis players don’t quite hit their prime at the same time everyone else does), and she now has a second career as a businesswoman. While she may not be playing on the court anymore, Li Na’s story continues to inspire Asian tennis players to pick up their racket and start training for greatness.
Another incredibly influential figure in women’s tennis, Mary Carillo’s professional tennis run lasted from between 1977 to 1980, but she’s had a much, much more recognisable career off the court. Carillo is arguably the most well-known women’s tennis commentator around the globe, but she’s equally adept at calling and casting men’s tennis, making her a truly diverse professional. She’s so well-known and well-liked that she was included in the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame back in 2018, and she continues to be a model commentator for anyone looking to get into this side of tennis thanks to her warm personality and incredible knowledge.