Renée Richards

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Renée Richards
Richards in 1976
Country (sports)United States
Born (1934-08-19) August 19, 1934 (age 89)
New York City, US
Height6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) [1]
Turned pro1977
Career titles0 WTA
Highest rankingNo. 20 (February 1979)
Grand Slam singles results
US Open3R (1979)
Career titles0 WTA
Grand Slam doubles results
US OpenF (1977)
Mixed doubles
Career titles0
Grand Slam mixed doubles results
US OpenSF (1979)

Renée Richards (born August 19, 1934) is an American ophthalmologist and former tennis player who competed on the professional circuit in the 1970s, and became widely known following male-to-female sex reassignment surgery, when she fought to compete as a woman in the 1976 US Open.[2]

The United States Tennis Association began requiring genetic screening for female players that year. She challenged that policy, and the New York Supreme Court ruled in her favor, a landmark case in transgender rights.[3] As one of the first professional athletes to identify as transgender, she became a spokesperson for transgender people in sports.[4][5][6] After retiring as a player, she coached Martina Navratilova to two Wimbledon titles.

Early life

Richards was born Richard Raskind on August 19, 1934, in New York City and raised, as she put it, as "a nice Jewish boy" in Forest Hills, Queens.[4][7][8][9][10][11] Her father David Raskind was an orthopedic surgeon, and her mother was one of the first female psychiatrists in the United States, in addition to being a professor at Columbia University.[4][7]

Richards attended Horace Mann School and excelled as the wide receiver for the football team, the pitcher for the baseball team, and on the tennis and swim teams.[4][7] Her baseball skills even led to an invitation to join the New York Yankees, but she decided to focus on tennis.[4] After high school Richards attended Yale University and was captain of the men's tennis team,[4][7] and was considered by some to be one of the best college tennis players in the country.[4] After graduating from Yale, she went to the University of Rochester Medical Center and specialized in ophthalmology,[4] graduating in 1959 and serving a two-year internship at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.[4][7] After an internship, she served two years of residency at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital in New York.[7] She played competitive tennis for a while and was ranked sixth out of the top 20 males over 35.[4][7] After an internship and residency, she joined the United States Navy to continue medical training and played tennis in the Navy.[4] While serving in the Navy, she won both the singles and doubles at the All Navy Championship, with a very effective left-hand serve.[4] During this time she was ranked as high as fourth in the region.[4]


During college Richards began dressing as a woman, which at the time was considered to be a perversion, with transsexualism classified as a form of insanity.[4] Richards named her female persona "Renée", which is French for "reborn".[4] Her struggle with gender identity created sexual confusion, depression, and suicidal tendencies.[7] She began seeing Dr. Charles Ihlenfeld, a disciple of Harry Benjamin who specialized in endocrinology, transsexualism, and sexual reassignment.[4] Upon seeing Ihlenfeld she began getting hormone injections with the long-term hope for a life change.[4] In the mid-1960s she traveled in Europe dressed as a woman, intending to go to North Africa to see Georges Burou, a famous gynecological surgeon at Clinique Parc in Casablanca, Morocco, regarding sex reassignment surgery; however, she ultimately decided against it and returned to New York.[4] Richards married model Barbara Mole in June 1970, and together they had a son Nicholas in 1972. They were divorced in 1975.[4][12][13]

In the early 1970s, Richards resolved to undergo sex reassignment and was referred to surgeon Roberto C. Granato Sr. by Harry Benjamin, successfully transitioning in 1975.[4][14][15] After surgery, Richards went to Newport Beach, California, and started working as an ophthalmologist in practice with another doctor.[4][7]

Court case

In 1976, Richards's gender reassignment was outed by local TV anchor Richard Carlson, the father of Tucker Carlson.[16] Subsequently, the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), and the United States Open Committee (USOC) required all female competitors to verify their sex with a Barr body test of their chromosomes.[4][7][17] Richards applied to play in the US Open in 1976 as a woman, but refused to take the test, and thus was not allowed to compete in the Open, Wimbledon, or the Italian Open in the summer of 1976.[4]

Richards then sued the United States Tennis Association (USTA), which runs the US Open, in New York state court, alleging discrimination by gender in violation of the New York Human Rights Law.[4][7][17] She asserted that participating in the tournament would constitute "an acceptance of her right to be a woman."[7] Some USTA members felt that others would undergo sex change to enter women's tennis.[4][7] Sports Illustrated called Richards an "extraordinary spectacle", and characterized reactions to her as "varying from astonishment to suspicion, sympathy, resentment, and more often than not, utter confusion."[7] The USOC stated "there is competitive advantage for a male who has undergone a sex change surgery as a result of physical training and development as a male."[7][18] Richards finally agreed to take the Barr body test. The test results were ambiguous. She refused to take it again and was barred from play.[7]

On August 16, 1977, Judge Alfred M. Ascione found in Richards's favor. He ruled: "This person is now a female" and that requiring Richards to pass the Barr body test was "grossly unfair, discriminatory and inequitable, and a violation of her rights."[5][19] He further ruled that the USTA intentionally discriminated against Richards, and granted Richards an injunction against the USTA and the USOC, allowing her to play in the US Open.[5][7] Richards lost to Virginia Wade in the first round of the singles competition, but made it to the finals in doubles.[4][7][17]

Tennis career after transitioning

External videos
video icon Interview with Renee Richards on The Robert MacNeil Report; Transexuality and Sports 1976-08-23, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC

After moving to California, Richards played in regional competitions for her local club, the John Wayne Tennis Club, under the name Renée Clark.[4][7] In the summer of 1976 she entered the La Jolla Tennis Tournament Championships, where she crushed the competition, and her unique left hand serve was recognized by Bob Perry, a tour player from UCLA.[4] Her long-time friend Gene Scott then invited her to play in his professional tennis tournament, the Tennis Week Open in South Orange, New Jersey. The USTA and the WTA then withdrew their sanction for the Tennis Week Open, and organized another tournament; 25 of the 32 participants withdrew from the Tennis Week Open.[4][5][7] This was just the beginning of the issues Richards would encounter in trying to play professional women's tennis, which eventually led to her suing the USTA and winning.

Richards played professionally from 1977 to 1981 when she retired at age 47.[4][5][17] She was ranked as high as 20th overall (in February 1979), and her highest ranking at the end of a year was 22nd (in 1977). Her first professional event as a female was the 1977 U.S. Open. Her greatest successes on court were reaching the doubles final at her first U.S. Open in 1977, with Betty Ann Grubb Stuart – the pair lost a close match to Martina Navratilova and Betty Stöve – and winning the 35-and-over women's singles. Richards was twice a semifinalist in mixed doubles, with Ilie Năstase, at the U.S. Open. In 1979, she defeated Nancy Richey for the 35-and-over singles title at the Open. Richards posted wins over Hana Mandlíková, Sylvia Hanika, Virginia Ruzici, and Pam Shriver. She later coached Navratilova to two Wimbledon wins.

Richards was inducted into the USTA Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000.[20] On August 2, 2013, Richards was among the first class of inductees into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.[21]

Richards has since expressed ambivalence about her legacy, and came to believe her past as a man provided her with advantages over her competitors, saying "Having lived for the past 30 years, I know if I'd had surgery at the age of 22, and then at 24 went on the tour, no genetic woman in the world would have been able to come close to me. And so I've reconsidered my opinion."[22][23]


After four years of playing tennis, she decided to return to her medical practice, which she moved to Park Avenue in New York.[4][7] She then became the surgeon director of ophthalmology and head of the eye-muscle clinic at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital.[7] In addition she served on the editorial board of the Journal of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.[4][7] She now lives in a small town north of New York City with her platonic companion Arleen Larzelere.[4]

In 2014 a wooden racket used by her was donated to the National Museum of American History, which is part of the Smithsonian.[24]

Movies and books

In 1983, Richards published an autobiography, Second Serve,[25] and in 2007, a second, No Way Renée: The Second Half of My Notorious Life, in which she expresses regret over the type of fame that came with her transgenderism, although she said in 2007 that she did not regret undergoing the sex reassignment process in itself.[26] In 2021, Richards continued her autobiography with Diary 1999: An Eye-Opening Medical Memoir.[27] Richards's first autobiography served as the basis for the film Second Serve.[5] Renée is a 2011 documentary film about Richards directed by Eric Drath. The film was one of the anchor films of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival and the documentary premiered on ESPN on October 4, 2011.[28]

In 2017, Richards was interviewed by Katie Couric near the end of the documentary Gender Revolution.

Grand Slam performance timelines

(W) winner; (F) finalist; (SF) semifinalist; (QF) quarterfinalist; (#R) rounds 4, 3, 2, 1; (RR) round-robin stage; (Q#) qualification round; (DNQ) did not qualify; (A) absent; (NH) not held; (SR) strike rate (events won / competed); (W–L) win–loss record.

Note: The Australian Open was held twice in 1977, in January and December.

Men's singles

Tournament 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 Career SR
Australia Championships A A A A A A A A 0 / 0
French Championships A A A A A A A A 0 / 0
Wimbledon A A A A A A A A 0 / 0
U.S. Championships 1R A 2R 1R 2R A A 1R 0 / 5
SR 0 / 1 0 / 0 0 / 1 0 / 1 0 / 1 0 / 0 0 / 0 0 / 1 0 / 5

Women's singles

Tournament 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 Career SR
Australian Open A A A A A 0 / 0
French Open A A A A A 0 / 0
Wimbledon A A A A A 0 / 0
US Open 1R 1R 3R 2R 1R 0 / 5
SR 0 / 1 0 / 1 0 / 1 0 / 1 0 / 1 0 / 5

Women's doubles

Tournament 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 Career SR
Australian Open A A A A A 0 / 0
French Open A A A A A 0 / 0
Wimbledon A A A A A 0 / 0
US Open F 2R A 3R 3R 0 / 4
SR 0 / 1 0 / 1 0 / 0 0 / 1 0 / 1 0 / 4

Mixed doubles

Tournament 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 Career SR
Australian Open A A A A A 0 / 0
French Open A A A A A 0 / 0
Wimbledon A A A A A 0 / 0
US Open A 3R SF 1R A 0 / 3
SR 0 / 0 0 / 1 0 / 1 0 / 1 0 / 0 0 / 3

See also


  1. ^ Bostic, Stephanie, ed. (1979). USTA Player Records 1978. United States Tennis Association (USTA). p. 238.
  2. ^ "From tennis outcast to trans pioneer". BBC Sport.
  3. ^ "Renée Richards Documentary Debuts at Tribeca Film Festival" Archived April 3, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. April 22, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag Renée. Film. Directed by Eric Drath. New York: ESPN Films, 2011.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Birrell, Susan, and Cheryl L. Cole. Women, sport, and culture. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1994.
  6. ^ "21 Transgender People Who Influenced American Culture". Time Magazine. Archived from the original on August 5, 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Abrams, Roger I. Sports justice: the law and the business of sports Boston, Mass.: Northeastern University Press, 2010.
  8. ^ Richards, Renée; Ames, John (February 9, 2007). No Way Renee: The Second Half of My of My Notorious Life. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780743290135. Archived from the original on February 25, 2017. Retrieved March 19, 2011.
  9. ^ Wechsler, Bob (2008). Day by Day in Jewish Sports History. KTAV Publishing House, Inc. p. 240. ISBN 9781602800137. Archived from the original on February 25, 2017. Retrieved March 19, 2011.
  10. ^ Geller, Jonny (2008). Yes, But Is It Good for the Jews?: A Beginner's Guide. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. ISBN 9781596919969. Archived from the original on February 25, 2017. Retrieved March 19, 2011.
  11. ^ Dzmura, Noach (2010). Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community. North Atlantic Books. p. 15. ISBN 9781556438134. Archived from the original on February 25, 2017. Retrieved March 19, 2011.
  12. ^ "Ex-Wife of Renee Weds". Milwaukee Sentinel. July 13, 1978. p. 9. Retrieved November 27, 2012.[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ Richards, Renee, Second Serve (1983) New York : Stein and Day.
  14. ^ "The Second Half of My Life" Archived February 19, 2007, at the Wayback Machine Talk of the Nation, February 8, 2007
  15. ^ Hyman, Paula; Moore, Deborah Dash; Weisbard, Phyllis Holman (January 1998). Jewish Women in America: A-L. Routledge. ISBN 9780415919340. Archived from the original on February 25, 2017. Retrieved March 19, 2011.
  16. ^ Sanneh, Kelefa (April 2, 2017). "Tucker Carlson's Fighting Words". The New Yorker. Retrieved July 7, 2020.
  17. ^ a b c d Creedon, Pamela J. Women, media and sport: challenging gender values Thousand Oaks u.a.: Sage, 1994
  18. ^ Richards V. USTA, 1977 p. 269
  19. ^ Richards V. USTA, 1977 p. 272
  20. ^ Prange, Peter. "Simon & Schuster: Renee Richards – Biography". Archived from the original on March 13, 2007. Retrieved March 19, 2011.
  21. ^ "National Gay & Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame's Inaugural Class Announced | Out Magazine". June 18, 2013. Archived from the original on November 1, 2013. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  22. ^ Bazelon, Emily (October 25, 2012). "Cross-Court Winner". The Slate Group. Archived from the original on February 8, 2015. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  23. ^ Foer, Franklin; Tracy, Marc (October 30, 2012). Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 978-1455516117. Archived from the original on June 15, 2015. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  24. ^ "Original Transgender Pride Flag, Will & Grace Artifacts Donated to Smithsonian | Out Magazine". August 20, 2014. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved August 25, 2015.
  25. ^ Richards, Renée with John Ames. Second Serve: the Renée Richards Story. New York City, New York, USA: Stein and Day, March 1983, ISBN 0812828976
  26. ^ Goldsmith, Belinda (February 18, 2007). Transsexual pioneer Renee Richards regrets fame Archived October 23, 2010, at the Wayback Machine. Reuters. Retrieved February 21, 2011.
  27. ^ Richards, Renée with Ray Dyson. Diary 1999: An Eye-Opening Medical Memoir. The Villages, FL, USA: Hallard Press, LLC, June 2021, ISBN 9781951188221
  28. ^ "Renée". Archived from the original on March 21, 2011. Retrieved March 19, 2011.

External links