It may be another false dawn but this year's Australian Open tennis tournament carries a distinct whiff of a new era - and no one illustrates that better than Margaret Court and Ashleigh Barty.

Court is the grande dame of tennis - 62 title wins and 24 majors, a record matched by no other player of whatever gender.

Nevertheless, some current players have called for the Margaret Court Arena to be re-named after her trenchant stand against same-sex marriage.

Driven by strong religious beliefs, the 75-year-old first known as tennis' greatest player is now regarded by new generations as a raging homophobe (she denies it). She claimed a plot by gay people to "destroy marriage" and that there would eventually be no Father's Day, no Mother's Day, no Easter nor Christmas.

Advertisement

Barty is the 21-year-old who turned pro at 15 with a big future ahead of her. In 2014, burned out, depressed and uncomfortable with the expectation of being The Next Big Thing in Australian tennis, she took a break from the game at the age of 18.

Many expected her not to return. She was treated for depression but drew public attention again by turning out for the Brisbane Heat women's cricket team in the first Big Bash in 2015 - hitting a quickfire 39, a multi-talented athlete with a golf handicap of 10.

When she returned to tennis, she was unranked, fighting up to 325 by the end of 2016. Now she is world No19 and Australia's highest-ranked player (gobby Nick Kyrgios is 21st).

No one is yet suggesting Barty, who has Aboriginal blood and is close to another Aussie icon, Yvonne Goolagong Cawley, will emulate Court on the court - and certainly not off the court.

It's a shame tennis and other authorities did not take the opportunity to re-name the arena after its namesake said she would boycott Qantas following the airline's support for Australia's recent gay marriage legislation.

After an outcry, Court decided to stay away from Melbourne this year - too uncomfortable to sit in the arena bearing her name.

She has only herself to blame. In an interview with a Christian radio station last year, she said "tennis is full of lesbians" while transgender children were the work of the Devil and the product of bullying and parents who did not care.

"God's got so much in there [the Bible] about the mind and how it affects us...," she said. "You can think 'Oh, I'm a boy' and it'll affect your emotions and feelings and everything else and so that's all the Devil. That's what Hitler did, that's what Communism did - got the minds of the children. And it's a whole plot in our nation and in the nations of the world to get the minds of the children."

Barty was one of those players who spoke out in defence of her doubles partner Casey Dellacqua who is in a same-sex relationship with partner Amanda Judd, with two children.

When Dellacqua had her second child, Court wrote a letter to the West Australian newspaper as patron of the Australian Family Association, saying it was sad the baby had been deprived of a father.

"Personally, I have nothing against Casey Dellacqua or her 'partner' [the inverted commas are Court's]. I simply want to champion the rights of the family over the rights of the individual to engineer social norms and produce children into their relationships."

So, as the Australian Open progresses, I will watch Barty keenly. She is not only of hometown interest in a field weakened by the absence of Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka - but she also represents the new, the fresh and the tolerant.

The men's game also seems at a tipping point, with Andy Murray out after a possibly career-changing hip operation, no Kei Nishikori and questions over the fitness/rustiness of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic and others. It may be a bridge too far for the new generation - Alex Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Karen Khachanov, Hyeon Chung, Andrey Rublev, Denis Shapovalov among them - to outplay the old guard consistently.

But, as the Court drama underlines, the tennis torch is being passed to a new generation anyway. The irony is that it was one of Court's "lesbians" - the redoubtable Billie Jean King - who ushered in the era of professional tennis for women, with equal pay and freedom.

President Barack Obama, in awarding King the Medal of Freedom in 2009, praised "all the off-the-court stuff - what she did to broaden the reach of the game, to change how women athletes and women everywhere view themselves, and to give everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, including my two daughters, a chance to compete both on the court and in life."

Give me that any day ahead of biblical repression and dictatorial morality. Change the name of the arena? Yes, maybe call it Margaret Caught Out Arena.