In celebration of Pride Month, throughout June USTA Florida recognizes all of those in the LGBTQ+ community whose talents and dedication help to grow the great game of tennis every day — at every level. We applaud them all for making tennis a better and more inclusive sport, and for making the face of our game more accurately reflect the dynamic diversity of our country.
Bobby Blair is a former world-ranked professional tennis player from Orlando, Fla., who currently resides in Las Vegas, Nev. An elite Florida and national junior player who trained under coaching legend Nick Bollettieri, Blair was a 1981 Florida State Closed Junior Championships champion and was ranked No. 1 in Florida and No. 5 in the country in 1983. After retiring from the professional tour, Blair served as a coach and general manager with World Team Tennis. In the 1990s, he started the Orlando Tennis Academy at the Orlando Tennis & Racquet Club with the hope of helping tennis players in the same way Bollettieri helped him.
In 2014, Blair published Hiding Inside the Baseline, his compelling memoir that detailed his turbulent journey as a gay athlete and businessman who didn’t come out until he was in his late 40s. He hopes his experience inspires today’s LGBTQ+ athletes, aspiring business professionals, and people from all walks of life who are struggling with their sexual orientation.
In 2018, Blair founded and launched LGBTQ Loyalty Holdings, Inc. The publicly traded company delivers progressive financial indices and marketing platforms for the LGBTQ+ community and their supporters. To learn more about the firm and its recently launched exchange-traded fund (ETF), click here.
Tennis is clearly a big part of your life. When did you first pick up a racquet?
I started tennis when I was 10 years old in 1975 at the Orlando Tennis Center with Jim Kelaher as my first coach. Two years later when I was 12, I moved to training at the Orlando Racquet Club and was coached by Murray Hough and the legendary Betty Pratt. In September of 1980 when I was 15, I was offered a scholarship from the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. I stayed there until I went to college at the University of Arkansas.
What do you love most about tennis?
What I love most about tennis is that every second you have a decision to make, feet to move, a ball to hit – and it all must be done in sync. I think we should also live our lives with this type of alignment. Everything should work together in a fluid and natural way. Plus like tennis, life takes hard work to be great. It takes a team of supporters who believe in us. It takes strategy and planning. It takes a great attitude and a mantra of “never give up”. Tennis teaches us all this and more – and with these traits aligned with our lives, our off-court wins could be exactly like a personal US Open or Wimbledon victory. This is how I live my life, thanks to tennis.
At one point, you were one of the top junior tennis players in Florida and the entire country. Share a few memorable moments from your junior career in Florida.
My most memorable moment is when I won the Boys 16 & Under State Closed Junior Championships. It was my dream to be a state champion.
My second is when I reached the finals and played for the United States No.1 Boys 18 junior ranking in the Boys 18 & Under National Clay Courts against legend Aaron Krickstein. I lost in 3 grueling sets.
My third most memorable moment was being No.1 in Florida in the Boys 18 & Under in 1983. Along with that, winning the 1983 State High School Team Championships was amazing. My former teammates Dani Leal, Cary Cohenour, Tony Zanoni, and others on that winning team have been lifelong friends.
You detailed your tennis journey and experience coming out in Hiding Inside the Baseline. How does your experience compare to the experiences of LGBTQ+ tennis athletes today?
Living my authentic truth is my biggest accomplishment in life. It was a tough journey to own my truth. I feel my friends and family now know Bobby Blair. It is a blessing to have been so accepted.
What impact do you hope your memoir has had on LGBTQ+ members in the tennis community? What about the entire tennis community in general?
I hope my story empowers our youth to come out and live their truth. I hope they realize the world will welcome them in ways that will surprise them. My best advice is to find that small circle of love and influence who support your coming out and truth. That small circle will flourish into a lifetime of love and support from many. My dear coach Nick Bollettieri said it best: “Live your life my boy, and always remember you will not win them all.”
How did the sport welcome you after coming out?
Nick Bollettieri and Billie Jean King led my coming-out story. The tennis world has accepted me incredibly. I was invited to the US Open Presidents Box by President Katrina Adams. At the 2014 US Open, I did a book signing with King, Bollettieri, Barry Buss, and Sven Groeneveld to meet supporters and to showcase my story. That was an amazing day.
How does tennis help you connect with the LGBTQ+ community?
Tennis helps me connect with the community because I have a global reach that has been active since the early 1980s. As a former junior standout, top collegiate player, tennis-playing professional and throughout my coaching career – the amount of friends and supporters I have found is incredible. It gives me an amazing platform to communicate my “Advancing Equality” message.
What advice do you have for members of the LGBTQ+ community about getting involved in tennis?
I love the fact we have so many LGBTQ+ tennis leagues around the country. I suggest everyone pick up their racquet, join a league and go have fun and make lifelong friends. If you are single, you just might find the love of your life!
What does Pride mean to you?
Pride means to be proud of who you are. Proud to bring value to the world in some way. Proud to be an inspiration to help others live their truth. Proud to see the world evolve to a much higher level of acceptance and respect. Proud that corporate America has taken notice that equality best practices wins in their space, including the financial bottom line. We proved that at LGBTQ Loyalty Holdings, Inc., with our Index on the NYSE and now ETF on the Nasdaq, stock symbol LGBT.
How can USTA Florida better engage the LGBTQ+ community in Florida?
I respect USTA Florida so much for providing me a junior tennis environment that was organized by none other than the great Bobby Curtis. USTA Florida gave me a chance in life to have an incredible life. The foundation of who I am today was built on those courts all across Florida. I was inspired by players, coaches and parents. I came from a small two-bedroom home in a tough neighborhood in Orlando. My parents were dead broke. Tennis gave me everything I have in life today. Being featured now with USTA Florida for Pride month is a dream come true and my hope is that having the opportunity to share my story just might inspire someone else to live their truth. I want them to feel great about themselves when they wake up every day and look in the mirror. Be proud!
If you had to share your message of unity, what would it be?
Equality is necessary for a better world. The more equality that is shared, the better we all will be. Every single human being deserves to be treated equally. Equal opportunities and liberties. Thank you USTA Florida for being part of something very important. You are making a difference. You are changing lives, perspectives in a most positive way.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I wanted to share a special thank you to a few very special people who have made my Florida tennis life very special: Nick Bollettieri, Bobby Curtis, Betty Pratt, Jim Kelaher, Jan & Bill Enos, Hector Villarroel, Nancy Reed, Mary Anne Plante, Norm Copeland, Murray Hough, Alice Reen, Robert Sojo, Jeff Chambers and the Dinneen, Cohenour and Green families and finally, a great coach from afar who supported me incredibly, Don Petrine. Each of these great people played a consequential role when Florida tennis was my life 24/7 and many still make a huge difference to me to this day.
USTA Florida believes tennis is for everyone. For more information on how you can support, participate in, or find tennis play opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community in Florida, visit USTAFlorida.com/Diversity.