Now that She's Out, Russian Tennis Star is 'Free and Happy'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday August 5, 2022

Russia's Daria Kasatkina plays a shot during a semifinal match at the French Open tennis tournament in Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, on June 2, 2022
Russia's Daria Kasatkina plays a shot during a semifinal match at the French Open tennis tournament in Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, on June 2, 2022  (Source:AP Photo/Michel Euler, File)

Daria Kasatkina, Russia's top-ranked female tennis player, came out as gay last month despite her country's draconian anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Now that she's left the closet behind, the 25-year-old champion says she's "free and happy," UK newspaper The Independent reported.

Rated as the world's 12th best female tennis player, "Kasatkina was inspired to come out after Russian footballer Nadya Karpova revealed she was gay in a country where homosexuality is frowned upon," the newspaper account said.

"Russia's existing 'gay propaganda' law, passed in 2013, has been used to stop gay pride marches and detain gay rights activists," the story added.

Kasatkina unapologetically came out last month in a podcast interview that was conducted in Barcelona, where she has been living. Saying she's in a same-sex relationship, the tennis champion lamented that she and her girlfriend, Olympic silver medallist figure skater Natalia Zabiiako, would not be able to so much as hold hands legally in Russia.

Zabiiako, the article noted, "has been cheering for her at the Silicon Valley Classic in California this week." So have women from around the world.

"I don't know how the social media filter works, but I've just heard very good things," Kasatkina told the media, adding that her coming out "was not just a good thing for me, also it helped other people."

The star athlete went on to add: "I feel more free and happy. I think I made the right step. With the situation in the world, all this stuff that is tough, when if not now?"

Among the women cheering for the courageous athlete is Japanese four-time Grand Slam winner and "[f]ormer women's world number one Naomi Osaka," The Independent noted. Osaka, "who has spoken out about racial injustice and police brutality, said it was 'really amazing' to see Kasatkina take a stand."

"I do think we have to rally to support her," Osaka, 24, said, "because it is a bit of a dangerous situation" for a Russian citizen to publicly proclaim herself as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. "But I think in all of that it's really incredible that she's coming out and she's standing for what she believes in," Osaka added. "I'm always in support of that."

Also speaking out in support of Kasatkina is American tennis star Coco Gauff, 18, whose career best ranking is No. 11 in the world.

"I think in tennis, at least with the girls around, we're all very supportive of each other no matter the background or identity," The Independent quoted Gauff as saying. "I don't think there's any judgment when it comes to that."

Kasatkina had identified herself as bisexual last year "in an interview with Russian journalist Sofya Tartakova," UK news site The Express recalled.

In her interview last month, Kasatkina said it would be "pointless" to live a stifled life in hiding, because a person's self-knowledge about being LGBTQ+ "would always be going round in your head, until you say something."

"Obviously, each person decides how to open up and how much," she added.

Kasatkina also spoke up on behalf of "young people who have a hard time with society and need support." Some of that support should come, she suggested, from sports figures such as herself.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.