Tracy Austin knows the pitfalls of being a teenage success story all too well after triumphing at the 1979 U.S. Open at just 16 but feels what she went through bears no comparison to the social media onslaught that young players now have to deal with.
Hence the American player-turned-pundit said that players such as British teenager Emma Raducanu need to build a virtual protective wall around themselves — by switching off from social media.
Raducanu rocketed to fame after winning the U.S. Open last year as an 18-year-old qualifier but has since struggled to live up to expectations as she tries to adapt to the challenges of being a full-time tennis professional.
“There’s going to be haters everywhere,” Austin told Reuters from her home in Rolling Hills, California.
“She’s beautiful. She speaks well. She’s bright. She’s athletic. She’s won a major. She’s a multi-millionaire. And the problem with that is that most people are going to be jealous. Jealousy with a capital ‘J’ is evil, so back away from that if you can.”
Austin admitted that is easier said than done.
“I’m sure they’re intrigued about what people are saying, but stick to your values and keep people around you that have your best interests at heart.
“I would say to stay off social media as much as possible. Maybe you need it for sponsors so put your stuff out but don’t necessarily take stuff in.”
The two-time major champion, whose Hall of Fame career was cut short by injuries and a car accident, said that when she was rising to the top of the game she was advised not to pick up the newspaper or watch what people were saying about her on television.
“It’s difficult enough without everybody having an opinion about your hairstyle, your dress, your attitude, or whatever it is,” she said.
She praised Naomi Osaka, who opened a conversation about mental health in sports when she withdrew from last year’s French Open, and world number one Iga Swiatek, who travels with a psychologist.
“The way that you think about yourself, about your game, your confidence during matches – all of that is led by your head,” she said.
“So if you need help with that, I think it’s fantastic to add one more person to your entourage because you’re playing for such big stakes.”
Austin said the women’s game is in a period of transition with the likes of Swiatek emerging just as veterans such as Serena and Venus Williams appear to be approaching the end of their trophy-laden careers.
She said the game would benefit from rivalries like the one between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova during her era but said it will take time for those to develop.
Austin is currently working with the International Tennis Hall of Fame on a campaign that allows fans to vote on categories including “Most Epic Rivalry,” “Best Cinderella Story” and “Most Iconic Celebration” ahead of the enshrinement weekend July 15-17 in Newport, Rhode Island.
“I think it’s wonderful for tennis fans to be able to talk and have lively debates,” said Austin, who is the Hall of Fame’s youngest ever inductee.
“And maybe it will inspire young fans to learn about rivalries like Chrissie and Martina.”