Now that I’ve had awhile to absorb and deconstruct Canadian tennis player Rebecca Marino’s announcement of her “stepping away” from tennis, I see her decision in a much more balanced light. At first, I was surprised, then disappointed and finally, proud of her for the courage it took to publicly make this kind of announcement in the face of the constant pressure that society hoists upon public figures.
In 2010, a new, bright light appeared on the pro tennis circuit. At the 2010 US Open, a superbly talented, naturally gifted tennis player from Canada made waves as she won three rounds of qualifying to make it to the main draw where she won her first ever main draw match at a major. Waiting for Rebecca Marino in the second round was Venus Williams. As I watched that match, I consistently said (of Marino), “who is this?”, “where has she been hiding?” and “what a talent.” A blistering forehand, an equally powerful serve and nifty moves around the net were put on display for all to see.
Within six months, Marino has risen meteorically to #38 in the world and made it to her first ever pro tour final – mirroring the rise Milos Raonic. It was an incredible accomplishment and for Canadian tennis fans, great news as injury had sidelined our other top female player Aleksanda Wozniak. Looking back, no one knew that those six months would be the highlight of her tennis career.
As the remainder of the year progressed and as I followed her progress, I sensed something was not quite right with Marino. The early losses started to pile up and her progress seemed to be stifled. In early 2012, I was disappointed but not surprised to see her take a break from tennis. There didn’t appear to be anything wrong physically with her, so I thought she had developed a case of burnout.
At the end of 2012 when she returned to the game, I said to myself, ‘ok, she’s recharged her batteries and now time to get on with her career.’ I thought everything was okay, besides, it was going to take awhile for her to get her pro tennis legs back. Every player goes through a rough patch and gets over it, which is why I was stunned last month to hear she was leaving the game.
Once the surprise wore off, disappointment set in – mainly because I concur with many other tennis scribes and commentators – Marino is superbly talented and could have gone to the upper echelon of the game. What a selfish thing for me to feel – disappointment. This is Rebecca’s life and it is up to her to make her own decisions for her own best interest. How dare we be disappointed as fans just because we won’t be able to cheer her on anymore.
But we can cheer her on. Her announcement that she is suffering from depression was a brave and noble act. Any mental illness is stigmatised, looked down upon and quite frankly, ridiculed by any number of people in pop culture and by ordinary people. Having Rebecca speak out destigmatises mental illness and lets people have an open and mature conversation about it. She deserves our applause for this courageous act.
The scrutiny and high stress world of pro sports in today’s often malicious eye of social media can test the iron will of the toughest player. However, a true fan of anyone only wants what is best for them. Although many, many people will miss Rebecca’s prowess on the pro tennis circuit, just as many will get to experience her success at whatever she chooses to do with her life. A person of Rebecca’s character will almost always succeed. Her courage in taking a public stance on depression displays this strong character.
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