Shelby Rogers has joined her compatriot Sloane Stephens in highlighting the abuse tennis players deal with on social media.
The American was speaking after her fourth-round defeat to Emma Raducanu at the US Open on Monday. Rogers was hailed as a hero after beating world No 1 Ash Barty on Saturday but said the mood can quickly change.
“Obviously we appreciate the spotlight in those moments, but then you have today and I’m going to have nine million death threats and whatnot,” she said at her post-match news conference. “It’s very much polarising, one extreme to the other very quickly.”
The 28-year-old said she wished “social media didn’t exist” but is obliged to post due to marketing and sponsorship commitments.
“You could probably go through my profile right now – I’m probably a ‘fat pig’ and words that I can’t say right now,” Rogers said. “But, it is what it is. You try not to take it to heart, and it’s the unfortunate side of any sport and what we do.”
Rogers said she generally doesn’t pay attention to negative comments but admitted the abuse “does get to your head sometimes”. She added: “Social media can’t control what I’m doing and the way my training is going to go moving forward, but I wish it didn’t exist. It’s really tough.”
On Saturday, Stephens said she received around 2,000 abusive messages following her third-round loss to Angelique Kerber. Stephens, who is black, said many of the comments were sexist and racist and reposted some of them to social media. “This type of hate is so exhausting and never ending,” she said.
Stephens also posted supportive messages, saying the people who sent them are “the only ones who matter”.
The comments by Rogers and Stephens come at a time when athletes’ mental health is coming under scrutiny. Naomi Osaka said she was unsure of her immediate future in tennis after losing at the US Open.
“I think I’m going to take a break from playing for a while,” Osaka said after losing to 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez. “This is very hard to articulate. Basically, I feel like I’m kind of at this point where I’m trying to figure out what I want to do, and I honestly don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match. Sorry.”
Osaka did not say whether social media contributed to the issues she is facing.
Male athletes have also taken steps to protect their mental health. England’s Ben Stokes, one of the best cricket players in the world, stepped away from the game in July to concentrate on his mental well-being while Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings described his anxiety before playing for England at Euro 2020.