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US Open: Pegula, Azarenka want to protect younger players from abuse

"If I had a daughter, I would have to question: Would she want to play tennis?" Victoria Azarenka said. (Robert Prange/Getty Images)

Tennis players are speaking out about the abuse of younger players on the women’s tour by older male coaches.

Victoria Azarenka, a member of the eight-player WTA Players’ Council, said Saturday that it happens “right and left” on the WTA Tour and that keeping players safe must be a priority.

“We see those vulnerable young ladies that [are] getting taken advantage of in different situations,” she said.

“It’s really sad and really makes me emotional,” she said. “If I had a daughter, I would have to question: Would she want to play tennis? That would be a very big concern in that way for me.”

The comments come after Pierre Bouteyre was charged Thursday in France with raping and sexually assaulting French player Fiona Ferro when she was a teenager between 2012 and 2015. Bouteyere, who coached Ferro, described the relationship as a “true love story,” according to his lawyer.

Former world No. 1 Azarenka applauded Ferro for speaking out. Ferro, now 25, won two WTA title last year and has a career-high ranking of No. 39.

“I hope this situation she’s gonna come out of it stronger and tennis is not ruined for her because of that,” Azarenka said.

When asked about Azarenka’s comments, fellow council member Jessica Pegula said the council wants to put emphasis on “what situations aren’t right.”

“I think someone like Vika, who has had so much experience and been on tour for so long, she can definitely attest to when she sees something that’s not right or weird behavior or something like that,” she said. “I think shining a light on it earlier nowadays is much easier to do than it was maybe, 20 years ago when things weren’t as talked about.”

Pegula noted that part of rooting out such situations includes making sure to touch base with other players as they come up through the ranks.

“It’s almost like the see something, say something,” she said. “I think it’s a lot of little things of doing that. We’re very hopeful about that on the player council, and I think having experienced players – all of us are a little older as well – so we, I think, get that protective mindset of seeing all the young girls come up and wanting to make sure they are protected in the best way.”

Karolina Pliskova also called on parents to ensure that the abuse doesn’t happen, while world No. 1 Iga Swiatek said she was opting to remain optimistic about the WTA.

“I hope that if something like that happens, we’re going to kind of be safe and have trust in WTA that they’re going to take care of this stuff properly,” the two-time French Open champion said. “I’m sure they’re doing that.”