As the 2017 Australian Open carries on full tilt, investigations are being carried out on a dark and seedy underbelly of Tennis, most especially the social media front. It’s become an increasingly frequent and alarming trend to have competitive tennis players, not just pros but up-and-coming-amateurs, to receive some nasty harassment from online hecklers, up to and including death threats. It’s interesting to note however that for the most part the negative trolling on social media happens to players who are coming off from one lost match or other, and this fact pretty much spells out who in the internet would be of a mind to ruin their social media lives: regular patrons of the tennis betting business who get upset when their horse is beaten and are thus venting.

Victims of trolls

The story of athletes being slammed by harsh words on social media is the same as that of any other celebrities, but with a twist. There’s the example American Nicole Gibbs, who was already receiving hate messages and similar stuff when she was still in college tennis, an ordeal that escalated with her 2013 pro debut. This culminated in her first death threat after a straight-set loss during the 2016 Moscow Open, a screenshot of which she posted on Twitter (with a warning for children and an observation that it’s become a plague). "You are so [expletive] bad. I hope you die slowly, but [expletive] painfully," so went a zinger from a now-suspended troll user.

A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center revealed some figures on the rising tide of tennis online trolling.

As expected, female players get it more than males, although the guys too are bothered by it. Just ask Kevin Anderson, former top ten ranker from South Africa, who got his bunch of death threats after elimination from 2016 Wimbledon.

Angry bettors

This unsporting trend is an unfortunate side-effect of the emergence of online tennis betting, which the Global Betting and Gaming Consultants say makes up to $300 million yearly since 2011.

Wagers are made on matches in major tournaments like the Davis Cup and even the Australian Open this year, especially since some of the major sponsors for these events are gambling companies. What’s worse, the bookmaking firms couldn’t quite be held accountable for the trolls since social media monsters attack all walks of life.

Leaving social media?

It’s been proposed that one good way for tennis players to get by the online trolls was to simply close their social media accounts. But some players opt to weather the abuse and fight back. Retired top 40 Rebecca Marino of Canada and US player Madison Keys (not competing in the Australian Open due to injury), have chosen this route in raising awareness for cyber-bullying and firing back at detractors, many of whom have since gotten their accounts suspended.