The former world No 1 Victoria Azarenka has called for tennis to address the allegations over manipulative coaches, saying that some young players are being exploited “right and left on the tour”.
After a week that saw former world No 39 Fiona Ferro accuse her former coach Pierre Bouteyre of raping her as a 15-year-old, Azarenka said that she would think twice about allowing her own daughter to play professional tennis. Bouteyre was subsequently charged but denies the claims, claiming their relationship was a “love story”.
“The recent story with Fiona Ferro that came out, I don’t know how to put it in words sometimes,” said Azarenka. “All you can do is check in on the person and kind of give your hand – what I can do, what I can help with.
“So, I mean, I applaud her for being brave. I hope this situation she’s gonna come out of it stronger and tennis is not ruined for her because of that. That’s I think very, very heavy topic.”
As a member of the eight-person player council, Azarenka said that she felt a responsibility to improve the game’s safeguards against coaches – not only those who are accused of being sexually exploitative, but those who allegedly manipulate their charges in an attempt to isolate them.
“Our job is to be better at safeguarding,” said Azarenka. “As player council, it’s almost like No. 1 subject to us. Because we see those vulnerable young ladies that getting taken advantage of in different situations.
“In woman’s game particularly, I see so many coaches that make their players dependent on them, and I think that’s very dangerous. It’s very manipulative too. I wish that kind of subject was talked about a little bit more.
“The problem here is when somebody is winning, nobody’s going to go and say, ‘Okay, that [inappropriate coaching behaviour] is the thing’ When the winning stops, it becomes dark and there is nobody to hold your hand.”
In June, Telegraph Sport reported that the Women’s Tennis Association – which runs the professional tour – was taking a more active interest in this issue by investigating at least two problematic coaches.
In an accompanying article, Pam Shriver – the 1980s tennis legend who recently revealed details of her own damaging relationship with her teenage coach Don Candy – said that “A lot of players, past and present, have reached out to me privately and sent messages of support. Many have had a relationship that is in the same category as my affair with Don. At the very least, everyone knows somebody who has been in that position.”