Dark side of tennis: Player fears for life after receiving a slew of threatening messages

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Wilson Blade 9

World No.198 Natalija Stevanovic of Serbia opened up for the first time to show the abuse tennis players face regularly, regardless of whether they win or lose. This kind of online bullying has been a problem in the WTA world for a long time and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

Natalija Stevanovic at Wimbledon 2023

After losing in the final round of qualifying to American world No.348 Maria
Mateas 6-3 7-5 at the Guadalajara Open AKRON, Stevanovic received a series of threatening, abusive and curse messages.

Screenshot of an abusive message Natalija Stevanovic received in her inbox.

The most graphic one Stevanovic received in her DMs and it is exceptionally disturbing (mind you, the original is even more explicit than the English translation below):

Read this message carefully, you rude piece of trash. 5-2 in the second set, and in the end 5-7. Double faults in crucial moments. I will find you, you mother****er. I will find you, ra*e you and cut you into pieces, you retarded thieving mother****er! These are not empty words. I will find you, believe me, and I will ra*e your mother as you watch. […] My main goal is to make you disappear from this world.

Screenshot of insulting comments Stevanovic received on Instagram

Then there were numerous insulting and discouraging comments on Instagram (some of them we’ve altered slightly to make them more grammatical and readable, without changing the meaning):

  • I don’t know how you girl can call yourself a professional tennis player. You should rewatch your match. The way you girls “play” tennis is vomitting. It’s unbelievable.
  • Such a useless player.
  • Delete your bio. You are far far far far away from a professional tennis player. You are an amateur.
  • Most corrupted player ever, from 2-5 to 7-5. I hope the airplane you take back to Serbia doesn’t make it. Please God.

The 29-year-old Stevanovic, whose career breakthrough happened at Wimbledon 2023 where she reached the third round as a qualifier, expressed concern for her safety:

What should I say after this? Should I worry for my life, only because of a loss after an injury? Athletes are giving their best on the court and this kind of threatening messages are something way too serious! I am posting this for the very first time, cause I am tired of receiving this kind of messages even after winning matches.

Besides Stevanovic, Taylor Townsend of the United States and Danka Kovinic of Montenegro have also recently given us insight into the dreadful world of cyberbullying. Online abuse is a known problem that tennis players are regularly subjected to. Taking a stand against this form of harassment, Roland Garros took action to protect players by equipping them with an AI-powered software that filtered out toxic messages on social networks during the tournament.

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