In a tournament already wary of a terrorist attack following last week’s disturbing shooting of British vacationers on a Tunisian beach, Wimbledon’s female players are facing threats of their own as the 2015 games begin — obsessed fans who’ll follow them wherever they go.
Scotland Yard officers will be patrolling Wimbledon 2015, some in plain clothes. The United Kingdom’s terror threat level has been upped ominously to severe, which means an attack is quite likely, the Independent reported.
Personal security teams are on guard already, particularly those assigned to Wimbledon’s female competitors. Unfortunately for them, wielding threats from fans claiming abiding love — which quickly morphs into violent hatred should their advances be rejected — comes with the job for many of Wimbledon’s women players.
According to a report in the New York Times, tennis hasn’t been the same for women since a Steffi Graf fan stabbed opponent Monica Seles right on the court during a match in Germany. The repercussions of that attack reverberate into 2015 and are hard-wired safety habits for women at Wimbledon. These habits border on the paranoid, but are completely necessary.
Former Women’s Tennis Association President Pam Shriver — who had the helm back when Seles was stabbed — said ever since that incident, players’ chairs were scooted away from the stands, security staff eye the audience constantly, and safety seminars discourage female players from identifying their hotel or room number in public. These practices continue in 2015.
John Tobias, who protects female and male players, said his female clients are at greater risk.
Take Venus Williams. She’s been stalked a couple times. Back in 2002, German Albrecht Stromeyer trailed her games across the U.S. and Europe and was arrested outside Wimbledon. Most recently, Patenema Ouedraogo used Venus’ Twitter posts to figure out where she was, ultimately gaining access to her dressing room after following her in Miami and L.A.
“You have to be aware, and you have to know what’s around you as a player. If you become any sort of public profile, there’s a chance that there are some people out there who are not as stable as you’d like. And that’s not just tennis; it’s with everything. It’s one of the risks you take … It’s scary. Very scary.”
Romanian player Simona Halep’s Wimbledon 2015 experience has already been marred by a man named Jesper Andreassen, who has expressed love for her online — until he found out she was getting married. Then he threatened and insulted her.
To prevent Halep from being hurt like Monica Seles, security guards have manned her practice sessions at Wimbledon, searching every nook and cranny of the stadium. Other players get love notes. British player Heather Watson has so enraged people that “I’ve had people threatening to kill me and kill my family, wishing that I get cancer and die a slow, painful death.”
In 2015, it seems unbelievable that a professional, female tennis player would have to accept death threats and inappropriate advances from male fans as part of her career, but as this comment from Caroline Wozniacki implies, apparently they have to.
“With social media and with the tournaments being where they are, if someone really wants to find you and really wants do something, you can’t do anything about it.”
In light of terror threats and stalkers, one particular controversy stemming out of Wimbledon 2015 seems a bit irrelevant, which was reported by the London Evening Standard. Some people are calling sexist a decision to allow the women to take heat breaks — Wimbledon has been cooking under 90-degree heat for days — but not the men.
This criticism seems even more unimportant when one considers that men’s and women’s tennis are governed by different bodies, each of whom have set their own rules. Maria Sharapova said there was nothing unfair about the rule.
“If it does get quite hot for us, and we’re able to use it, then why not?”
[Photo Courtesy Julian Finney / Getty Images]