The Australian Open — tennis’ first major of the season — is underway in Melbourne. And with that, it’s very likely those out on the court are facing plenty of pressure.

Aside from the pressure these players put on themselves, there are plenty of outside forces getting after these players. There are the usual internet trolls that go after many high-profile figures. They’re accompanied by a hungry betting crowd that isn’t afraid to get abusive if a player loses. This was exposed in a recent CNN report.

For those who abuse these tennis players on the internet, age does not matter. 23-year-old American pro Nicole Gibbs says the online abuse started when she was 17 years old. It continued to get worse as she climbed the pro ranks:

When a straight-sets loss in the first round of the 2016 Moscow Open to the higher-ranked Russian Ekaterina Makarova in October led to a stream of hateful messages, the American posted a screen grab of it on her Twitter account.
“Warning: not suitable for children. Or anyone, really. This stuff is seriously an epidemic…,” she wrote.
One Twitter user, hiding behind the since suspended account of @T33MU92, wrote: “You are so f***ing bad. I hope you die slowly, but f***ing painfully.”
@T33MU92, whose profile showed a picture of an unrecognizable male figure dressed in a black T-shirt emblazoned with a white upside-down cross photographed against the sun, went on to say: “You have deserved it! WHORE”
While some of this might just be people being dumb on the internet, there’s speculation some of these trolls might have had money on the match. The sport is the second-most bet on in the world. This is coupled with the fact some betting companies started endorsing the Australian Open. Buzzfeed also reported that match-fixing was widely present at the Australian Open.

So far, it’s been a back-and-forth between the players and bookmakers.

Some players say deals such as UK bookmaker William Hill endorsing the Australian Open and Betway sponsoring the Davis Cup and Fed Cup — prestigious team events owned by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) — is sending out the wrong message:
Asked if bookmakers had to take any responsibility for this bullying and even death threats, William Hill said that was “akin to blaming high street chemists for doping players,” while Betway said that “unfortunately the nature of social media will often highlight a vocal minority that behave in an irresponsible way.”
The Betway spokesman added: “We don’t see the correlation between bookmaker sponsorship and Internet bullying, which unfortunately exists in all walks of life.”
“The irony is not lost on me,” said the 90th-ranked Gibbs, reflecting on the relationships between tennis organizations and bookmakers.
“It’s unsettling to say the least. But what can you do? If those are the sponsors that pay big money, then I’d rather have a job than not.”
Steve Healy, president of Tennis Australia, a non-profit organization that organizes the Australian Open, said he “understands” those feelings.
“I think it is horrendous what takes place on social media and the abuse of players,” he told CNN. “We are aware of that and appalled by it. But it is impossible to stop betting taking place. It will take place whatever.”

About Ryan Williamson

Ryan is a recent graduate of the University of Missouri and has recently returned to his Minnesota roots. He previously has worked for the Columbia Missourian, KFAN radio in Minneapolis and Feel free to email me at rwilliamson29 AT Gmail dot com.