Rebecca Marino has decided she cannot battle opponents and depression at the same time.
The Vancouverite, who rose as high as 38th in the world in the WTA rankings, announced Wednesday she’s “stepping away” from the game due to an ongoing battle with mental illness, which she admits was exacerbated by some “really hurtful” comments she was subjected to on social media.
“My depression had come way before the so-called cyberbullying,” Marino, 22, told reporters on a conference call, saying it stretched back six years.
“Social media has also taken its toll on me.”
Marino, who took a seven-month break from the game beginning in February 2012, said that while she believes “social media is actually a really important part of our society and there can be a lot of good that comes out of it,” it proved too “distracting” to her. She talked of receiving tweets that she should “go die,” “go burn in hell” and had cost bettors lots of money.
“That’s just scratching the surface,” she said of the online assaults, but added she still believes she’s a person with “a thick skin.”
On Monday, Marino deleted both her Twitter and Facebook accounts.
While admitting that “in a way I wish I hadn’t joined social media,” she said she has no regrets about being part of it and may even return one day.
Marino said neither social media nor depression, which she said still prevents her from getting out of bed some days, is the main reason she quit.
“The reason I’m stepping back is just because I don’t think that I’m willing to sacrifice my happiness and other parts of my life to tennis,” she said.
“After thinking long and hard about it, I realize that I do not have the passion or enjoyment to drive myself to the level of which I would like to be at in professional tennis.”
Sylvain Bruneau, the head coach of Canada’s women’s national team and Fed Cup team captain, said in an interview that Tennis Canada is “very disappointed” by Marino’s decision but remains fully supportive of her.
“We would have loved her to play another 10 years or more and compete in the Fed Cup and at the Olympics,” Bruneau told the Star. “But if she’s not happy playing the game, then we realize she should step away from it.
“She may be a tennis player but her as a person comes first. Why would she keep doing it if it doesn’t please her?”
Marino, who leaves the game ranked No. 418 in the world, said she reached the “lowest point” in her depression last February. She spoke with her family and select Tennis Canada officials at that time and finally got help.
Marino returned to competition last fall, in part, she said, because she played tennis with friends in Vancouver and realized she still enjoyed the game. In just her fifth tournament back after that break, she won the singles title at the $25,000 Rock Hill Challenger event.
Marino played in six tournaments this season, including the Australian Open, where she lost in the first round. She also just played in Memphis, the site of her first appearance in a WTA final in 2011, before making her decision.
Marino said it was important to not just leave the game but to explain why.
“I am opening up to you all about this because I would like to get rid of the stigma attached not only to depression but also to mental illnesses both in the public and in professional sports,” she said. “If I can share my story and change one person’s outlook or life, I have reached my goal.
“Depression is nothing to be ashamed of.”
Bruneau, who worked closely with Marino at the National Tennis Centre in Montreal in 2010 and 2011, said officials with Tennis Canada warned the player about the potential dangers of Twitter before she opened the account.
The coach said that when Marino made it clear she wasn’t happy being away from her family in Vancouver so much, the organization found a coach and made arrangements for her to relocate her domestic training back there.
Despite the perception that it’s a glamorous lifestyle jet-setting around the world and playing tennis, Bruneau said “it’s not easy” being on tour.
“It’s a very lonely world,” he said, noting players on the WTA Tour “tend to be less social, more individual, guarded and competitive” than their male counterparts, which means making friends can be very difficult.
Marino’s comments on potential dangers of social media comments were met with empathy by Maple Leafs players, the Star’s Mark Zwolinski reports.
“It’s unfortunate. . . . You know about bullying, it exists on all levels of society, not just in public schools or high schools, but among athletes and in offices,” said defenceman John-Michael Liles.
“When you have a computer or a cell phone, there’s a lot of anonymity behind it, and that’s the unfortunate part. You can go through our (dressing) room and we’ve all dealt with it, myself included.”
Liles said “haters” are part of the reality of Twitter and other social media.
He tries to battle bullying through the “Liles Buds” charity he established a year ago.
“That was the primary focus of it when I started it last year,” Liles said. “You don’t realize the power of your words and actions sometimes.”