Twenty-two-time grand slam champion Pam Shriver has slammed tennis for not protecting female players from their older male coaches something she knows more about that anyone. The 60-year-old doubles legend, who is now a prominent coach and broadcaster, revealed last year she had began a five-year relationship with her coach Don Candy when he was 50 and she was 17.

‘Having seen so many generations of women players struggle with the same thing, I really want women players to have more agency over the separation of their personal life from their professional life.

At the time she called on WTA Tour authorities to protect their players much better both personally and professionally and she has slammed the sport for not improving much since. ‘I don’t know if they  are all in yet,’ Shriver, who is at the Australian Open to coach Croatian star Donna Vekic, told The Age. 

‘I would like see the four majors, which together have 12 important weeks of the calendar, to step up and be better leaders on this thing. I think there are some real opportunities to make inroads.’ Shriver, who won seven Australian Open doubles titles in a sterling 18-year career, revealed her relationship with Candy last year after a long period of reflection and therapy during Covid.

The American turned pro aged just 15, and travelled with the now-deceased Candy, who was both her coach and chaperone. She said the relationship had a huge impact on the rest of her life, and authorities should never have allowed the married coach, who died in 2020 aged 91, to be with her. 

Shriver said she shared her story in the hope that current female players won’t be allowed to fall into the same trap. ‘It never should have been with my coach and … I’ve just realised that it’s time to talk about my story and hopefully make it easier for some other people who’ve also had stories that are similar,’ she told The Telegraph last year.

‘I still have conflicted feelings about Don. Yes, he and I became involved in a long and inappropriate affair. Yes, he was cheating on his wife. ‘But there was a lot about him that was honest and authentic. And I loved him. Even so, he was the grown-up here. He should have been the trustworthy adult. 

‘In a different world, he would have found a way to keep things professional. Only after therapy did I start to feel a little less responsible. Now, at last, I’ve come to realise that what happened is on him,’ Shriver said. The WTA has certainly attempted to try and ensure the situation doesn’t repeat itself, though Shriver said the jury is still out.

US sports lawyer Lindsay Brandon is now the tour’s Director of Safeguarding, and is responsible for designing and implementing plans that help players and coaches keep professional boundaries. Ninth-seed Veronika Kudermetova, who recently bombed out in the second round, has been married to her coach, Sergey Demekhin, for five years. The couple’s coach-player relationship began when she was 15 and he was almost 30. 

Tennis Australia also launched an effort of their own, termed ‘A Safer Game Plan’, which educates coaches about how to protect minors. They also run a 24-hour telephone reporting service.  Former Australian Open finalist Petra Kvitova became engaged to her long-time coach Jiri Vanek last year. He is 12 years older than her.

Coach Pierre Bouteyre was charged with raping and sexually assaulting French star Fiona Ferro when she was 15-18 years of age, and he was in his 40s. He had been travelling with her on the WTA Tour, but says their ‘sexual relationship’ was consensual. 

Candy, an Australian player-turned-coach who saw most of his success in doubles winning the French Open in 1956 was 33 years older than Shriver when they were in a relationship. It began when she was 17 and became sexual when she was 20 and with the benefit of hindsight, Shriver now realises she needed help.  

‘And it’s important that I can maybe feel that me coming forward and talking about my story in detail, might just help a few young players. It was a revelation that shocked Candy’s family. The Aussie’s portrait is still on display inside Kooyong, and Shriver said she waited until both he and her own parents were dead before she divulged details of the affair. 

‘I really didn’t know where to go to and I wasn’t sure how to ask for help. And it really wasn’t until sometime later, like really when the relationship was over, that I realised how much help I did need at the time,’ she told ESPN of the affair.

She is a supporter of US president Joe Biden’s Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, and an ambassador for Up2Us Sports, a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting underserved youth by providing them with coaches trained in positive youth development.

Two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka agrees with Shriver that it is an issue that plagues women’s tennis. ‘We see those vulnerable young ladies getting taken advantage of in different situations,’ the WTA player council member said at the US Open last year.

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