A lefty with a penetrating serve, Richard Raskind captained the Yale tennis team in 1954 and had sporadic success as an amateur player. Yet even as he became a prominent Manhattan ophthalmologist, he was never comfortable in his own skin. In 1975, at age 41, Raskind underwent sexual reassignment and emerged as Dr. Renee Richards.
She was content to start a new life in anonymity in Southern California but became a cause c�l�bre the following year when a journalist recognized her playing in the women's division of a local tournament. " Richards is still physically a man, and that gives her a tremendous and unfair advantage," Rosie Casals, a prominent pro player, said at the time. "[She] has to be stopped." Richards had had no intention of playing on the women's professional circuit but was energized by warnings that she not try. "I don't like being excluded," Richards told Tennis magazine last year. "So then I got into fighting legal battles to be allowed to play." In 1977 she won a New York State Supreme Court ruling permitting her to compete as a woman, and though she was in her mid-40s, Richards played for five years and won one singles title. Fans and colleagues never wholly adjusted to her gender-bending, but Richards helped to usher in the power game and the unapologetic musculature prevalent in women's tennis today. Later, as a coach, she played a major role in transforming an insecure Martina Navratilova into a champion.
One of the country's foremost pediatric ophthalmologists, Richards has a thriving Park Avenue practice and in her free time usually shuns tennis for nine holes at the course near her Putnam County, N.Y., home. Now 65, she made a rare public appearance last month when she delivered an eloquent speech at Navratilova's induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. "You are a true pioneer," she told Navratilova. Richards could just as easily have been describing herself.