One-time world champion tennis star Margaret Court has denied she “hates” gays, saying she has them in her church and works with them, but has added that young people “need to know it’s a choice”.

In December of last year, Court, 69, prompted a row with other former champions after saying gays were “aggressively demanding marriage rights that are not theirs to take”.

Martina Navratilova said Australian Court had failed to “evolve” with the rest of society.

But in an interview with the New York Times this week, Court said it was the “choice” she took issue with, rather than the person themselves.

She said the threats of protest at the Australian Open, and the criticism she had received at the hands of Navratilova and Billie Jean King, who called her views “truly frightening”, was “sad”.

The 100th Australian Open will start on the 16 January and some games will be played on Melbourne Park’s Margaret Court Arena, named in the former pro’s honour.

Court insisted her comments had been taken the wrong way if people concluded she took issue with gay people rather than the “choice” of homosexuality.

She said: “I think there’s young people today that need to know it’s a choice in life. And that was my side of it, bringing that forth. I’ve got nothing against the people themselves, I’ve always said that all the years I’ve been a minister.”

Court’s comments in December has also taken account of “choice”, saying: “The fact that the homosexual cry is, ‘We can’t help it as we were born this way’, as the cause behind their own personal choice is cause for concern. Every action begins with a thought. There is a choice to be made.”

Talking to the New York Times in Perth this week, the former world number one added: “I look into the Bible, and I see that God made man for woman, and woman for man. And I said I really believe that it’s wrong, to change the laws of a marriage between a man and a woman. All that came out over the world over that!

“I think they’re trying to make this “hate” thing — I guess to bring a righteousness, or a self-righteousness.”

In 2010, a Stonewall poll of gays and lesbians found tennis was perceived to be the most gay-friendly sport.