In a space as clearly defined as a tennis court, Demi Schuurs prefers to exist outside the lines. The attacking instincts that propel her from baseline to net have made her one of the most sought-after doubles partners in the game, and even in quarantine, the Dutch star refuses to shy away from new challenges.
“I’ve been practicing full court with my hitting partner, so I haven’t been practicing doubles in particular, but just working on hitting balls because we’re still not allowed to have four on a court,” she explained over the phone in May.
“The last two times I played singles, I ended up winning the doubles that week, so if it helps me win more tournaments, that’s fine for me!”
Schuurs’ boundless energy helped her win a whopping seven titles in 2018 with four different partners, ultimately qualifying for the WTA Finals with Elise Mertens. The following year, the 26-year-old reached the semifinals of the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen alongside Anna-Lena Groenfeld. She began the new decade with a new partner, former WTA Doubles No.1 Kveta Peschke, whose husband Torsten serves as the pair’s traveling coach.
Though injuries, first to Schuurs and then to Peschke, hampered their early efforts in Australia and the Middle East, the two intend to resume their partnership when the COVID-19 suspension abates.
“We speak, maybe five times a week, just about things I’m doing, how I’m feeling, and what I can work on. We’re working on a program, where, if the tour starts back up in August, we’ll begin working back up in the middle of June. I’m hitting three times a week at the moment, and the other days, I’m in the gym. For Kveta, they have a court in their garden, so they can play as much as they want. We’re feeling confident because even if the results weren’t as strong when we started together, we also understood that we didn’t play one full-out tournament together!”
With Schuurs and Peschke social distancing, the World No.12 has taken the time off to strengthen her home team, comprised of girlfriend Carmen and Simba, a Pomeranian the couple adopted last fall.
“I’m someone who likes to be at home, but I’m always finding something to do! I’ve been painting the walls at my girlfriend’s sports school. We’ve played cards and other kinds of board games. Yesterday we finally finished our puzzle, which was 3000 pieces.”
Schuurs came out at as a teenager, and is a proud member of the tour’s LGBTQ contingent that also includes WTA couple Alison van Uytvanck and Greet Minnen. The dual spotlight often put on an out athlete admittedly took some adjustment.
“When I was new on the pro circuit, I was shy because you don’t know how people might think of you. They see someone wearing boy’s clothes, and later find out that I have a girlfriend, so it made me wonder what they might be thinking of me. This is something that totally changed because now, they know who I am, what I do, what I have. They know that I’m polite to everyone, and they see that I’m no different from anyone else.”
Her on-court comfort indeed translates to her unique style, which shows her diving for volleys in oversized shirts and shorts.
“I think that’s something special about me, that I wear boy’s clothes. I feel good in them, so I do it. It’s something that makes me happy. I think it’s good when athletes aren’t shy and show who they are in their personal life. It helps people realize that this is a normal thing, which is important because when I was younger and had to tell my parents, family, friends, that I had a girlfriend and had fallen in love with a girl, I remember feeling so nervous and shy. Afterwards, I wondered why I felt that way, because all of those people just want you to be happy, and to be able to live your life.
“If I had to tell something to other people, I would tell them to do what they want and what makes them happy, and don’t be shy to tell other people.”
While the doubles game requires tactical synergy, Schuurs is unafraid to stand out in every other respect, moving through life with an openness that has not only helped her succeed, but also win her a legion of fans.
“I’ve had people writing me on Instagram, asking me how I got to be so comfortable with myself, or that they’re happy to have seen me on the court, because I’ve inspired them to come out to their parents. I’m able to be a positive role model for them because of how I behave on court and treat other people.
“I think that’s really nice to be able to support younger fans who may be going through the same things I did. I remember the feelings I had when I came out, so I want to help younger people understand that they should be how they want to be, and show what they want to show.
“You only live once, so you have to be happy and don’t need to stress about being gay or not.”