Melbourne, Australia, 12 July 2023 | Leigh Rogers

Maria Thattil was crowned Miss Universe Australia in 2020.

She is now an ambassador, activist, presenter and a popular media personality, who has appeared on The Project and I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!

Earlier this year, Thattil released her first book, Unbounded: Manifesting a life without limits. The book explores the complexities of race, sexuality, gender, and identity.

In our Celebrity Match series, Thattil shares her early tennis memories and reveals her most memorable Australian Open experiences …

Tell us about your tennis experience. Have you played before?

I’ve hit a couple of balls over the net in my primary school days and look – my career was looking promising until one day when I copped a tennis ball to the face and abruptly quit! I did love the game though. I’ve been thinking about picking up a racquet again for fun!

Do you remember what your best shot was when you played?

I haven’t played anything notable, although I did find myself involved as the umpire at the Australian Open’s Glam Slam this year. My best ‘shot’ was throwing to the spectators to gauge what they thought was happening in the game because truthfully, I’m a novice!

Maria Thattil in the umpire chair during the Glam Slam celebrity match at Australian Open 2023.

What is your earliest tennis memory?

Being about 10 or 11 years old on a Saturday morning, waking up early, donning a tennis skirt and cap and going to the local courts for lessons with my brother. I still remember the warm rust colour of the surface and how warm my coach was. As a kid who was more academically inclined and preferred a classroom, tennis was the one sport I genuinely enjoyed.

Do you have a favourite tennis memory?

My favourite tennis memory was in 2021, I was the Piper-Heidsieck ambassador for the Australian Open that year and was given the opportunity to watch an incredible match from seats right on the court. I remember watching Novak Djokovic play against Jeremy Chardy and it was absolutely electric! We were treated to an incredible experience in The Dressing Room too, where we met other tennis fans and bonded over our love of the game.

Do you remember the first professional match you saw live? Who played?

My first live match was in 2016, but I’d have to say the first professional match I watched live that really stands out for me was the Djokovic and Chardy game in 2021, purely because of the incredible views from seats on the court. I mean, who gets to do that!?

Maria Thattil in the Piper-Heidsieck on-court seats at Rod Laver Arena.

Who is your favourite tennis player to watch and why?

It would have to be Nick Kyrgios, he is quite entertaining to watch! Ash Barty is my other favourite and even though she has retired, does she even need an explanation for why she is enjoyable to watch? Living legend.

If you could meet any tennis player, who would it be and why?

I’ve already met them – Jelena Dokic. Jelena is a superstar of the game and I had the privilege of befriending her in the hair and makeup room at Channel Nine one fine afternoon late last year, before we both went on to do segments with The Today Show. Her legend precedes her and I have always been in awe of her, not just because of her achievements on the court, but because of her tenacity, resilience and heart. I was so grateful to actually connect with her properly and get to know her spirit – and now I call her a friend.

What was your personal highlight in being involved in AO Pride Day at this year’s Australian Open?

Other than being there as the comic relief (because let’s be honest, I don’t have a future in umpiring), a personal highlight from being involved in AO Pride Day at this year’s Australian Open was sharing the experience with so many other champions for inclusivity, diversity and our LGBTQIA+ community. As someone who has been publicly out since 2022, I felt honoured to be in the presence of people I not only look up to, but share values with.

Why is it important to see major events such as the Australian Open promoting pride?

It is important to see major events like the Australian Open promoting pride because sports are for everyone – so it needs to actively be promoted as inclusive to and accessible for everyone. We are living through a time where there is unrest and even within the LGBTQIA+ community, some groups continue to face discrimination disproportionately. Major events like the Australian Open have the opportunity to leverage large platforms, abundant resources and far-reaching communication channels to really drive cultural change, to move the dial on equality and create safe spaces for everyone.

Finally, can you please finish these sentences:

The best part of the Australian Open is … camaraderie, healthy competition and watching world-class athletes battle it out on Aussie courts.

Tennis is fun because … it’s for everyone, and anyone can have a go. Even me!

> Check out more interviews from our Celebrity Match series

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