June 13, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

Former tour player Vahaly has kids – and a husband

Some day, hopefully in the near future, a male professional tennis player currently active on the ATP Tour will come out.

Retired American pro Brian Vahaly thinks the environment might be more welcoming now than it was back in the early 2000s when he was playing.

Vahaly, now 37, got the most out of his professional career after a very good junior career. He was a three-time all-American at the University of Virginia, graduating with a double major in finance and business management before turning pro.

He reached a career best of No. 64 in singles, and also got into the top 100 in doubles.

In 2003 at Indian Wells, he defeated three top-10 players: Fernando Gonzalez, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Tommy Robredo, back to back, before falling to countryman Vince Spadea in the quarterfinals. He also defeated Michael Chang that year. 

But Vahaly was more than that. He started a charitable foundation in 2003 – in his early 20s, remember – and raised a ton of money in the Atlanta area where he lived. And during a period when college players transitioning successfully to the ATP Tour wasn’t all that common, he was the only college graduate ranked in the top 100 that year.Embed from Getty Images

He was, as well, recognized in People Magazine’s “25 Hottest Bachelors” issue (along with Prince William and actor Keanu Reeves) – right after his girlfriend reportedly dumped him.

In retrospect, that’s probably a little amusing.

Vahaly had three shoulder surgeries within a one-year period to repair a torn rotator cuff. He was done as a player by 2007.

Vahaly
Vahaly (left) and husband Bill Jones were born 10 days and 10 miles apart. They have twin 10-month-old sons born via surrogate.

It was only after his career was over that he dealt with something that had been there all along: his homosexuality.

Now married and the father of twin 10-month-old boys born via surrogate, Vahaly is a venture capitalist working in Washington, D.C. and living in Annapolis, Maryland.

He talked about it in a podcast this week with Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated/Tennis Channel.

“The tennis community has been mostly welcoming. I’ve heard from past players, college teammates, and everyone has been supportive,” Vahaly told Tennis.Life. “I agree the landscape was completely different in the 80s, and different still in the early 2000s.   I think I’m fortunate to be in a good place at this point.”

A few of Vahaly’s insights on sexuality and men’s tennis are below.

But here is the podcast in its entirety. Vahaly shares his thoughts on a variety of topics far beyond that. He talks about the transition to life after tennis. And he explains how losing sticks with you far longer than the ephemeral feeling of winning.

All of it is thoroughly worth the listen.

On the journey to self-discovery

“I got married a couple of years ago. Obviously it was a big deal. As I think back to my playing days, you’re so focused on your sport, on winning. You recognize what a short window competition is and you don’t want to do anything to distract from that. “I had a girlfriend when I was out there on tour. I was really trying to achieve the most I could in sports. And I think for me it wasn’t until after I had left the game that I had to come full circle with myself, understand who I am as a person. Where am I going? Am I happy? And I had to come to terms with some things about my sexuality. That was not easy, especially coming from a sports background.

“And it really caused me for a long period of time to want to understand it, to not really want to talk about it. It was a long learning curve that I’m happy to be on the other side of now.” 

On his sexuality not defining him:

“A year or two after I was done. I didn’t want to look back on my career and be known for my sexuality as the primary memory of what I was able to accomplish. Because when you work at something for 25 years. … I sacrificed a lot to pull a lot of great moments and wins and experiences out of somebody like me, who frankly wasn’t the most athletic, the most talented. But I fought like hell. And I wanted to be remembered for that.

“Especially in the early days, all of a sudden you quickly become ‘the athlete that was gay’. At that point in time, the level of my confidence, security, and frankly understanding of myself, that’s just not how I wanted to be remembered. So for very selfish reasons, I thought this was something I was going to explore on my own.

“I never saw myself as a pioneer, or an advocate. It was something I had to come to terms with – sort of mourn the life that I thought I was going to be living, with a wife, with kids, the life that I thought I was building. And realize what the new normal was going to look like.”

On locker room reaction:

“I’m sure it could have been more tough in the locker room environment. Everyone is extremely friendly. It’s a nice environment there. I don’t think it could have been a huge problem. But certainly there are going to be people that having a gay person there could have the likelihood or potential to offend. I don’t think that’s everybody, but certainly that’s out there.

“And I think in general you always want to feel like one of the guys, who gets along well with everybody. (Someone) who can be a part of every conversation, who’s not going to be offended or cause any sort of controversy or problem. I think the fear would have been, ‘Are people going to act differently around me if it this were to be the case?’  Or, ‘What do I do with some of the comments from some players, who may not agree with homosexuality?’ It felt like a variable that, at that point in time, was something I didn’t want to add fuel to.”

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