The 22-time grand slam doubles champion Pam Shriver says she had an “inappropriate and damaging relationship” with her coach which started when she was a teenager, and has warned that similar scenarios are commonplace in tennis.
In an article for the Daily Telegraph published on Wednesday, Shriver, who is now 59 and a respected broadcaster, says she started to work with Don Candy when she was nine. The Australian was her coach as she began her rise to the top of the game, and she eventually reached the final of the US Open as a 16-year-old amateur. When she was 17 she told the 50-year-old Candy she was falling in love with him and they went on to have an affair.
“I still have conflicted feelings about Don,” Shriver writes. “Yes, he and I became involved in a long and inappropriate affair. Yes, he was cheating on his wife. But there was a lot about him that was honest and authentic. And I loved him. Even so, he was the grown-up here. He should have been the trustworthy adult. In a different world, he would have found a way to keep things professional. Only after therapy did I start to feel a little less responsible. Now, at last, I’ve come to realize that what happened is on him.”
Shriver says Candy, who died in 2020, did not sexually abuse her but the relationship “stunted my ability to form normal relationships and set certain patterns which would recur: my ongoing attraction to older men and my difficulties in understanding how to maintain healthy boundaries” .
Shriver believes her story is far from unique. “I believe abusive coaching relationships are alarmingly common in sport as a whole,” she says. “My particular expertise, though, is in tennis, where I have witnessed dozens of instances in my four-and-a-bit decades as a player and commentator. Every time I hear about a player who is dating their coach, or I see a male physio working on a female body in the gym, it sets my alarm bells ringing.”
Shriver said the relationship, particularly her guilt towards Candy’s wife, Elaine, had a negative effect on her game. The relationship ended when she sought out a new coach, although she continued to keep in touch with Candy as a consultant.
Abuse of athletes has become a prominent topic in recent years. Shriver suggests some ways tennis could address the problem.
“As far as solutions go, I don’t have all the answers. I think it’s possible to educate young athletes, but you probably have to start before they even reach puberty: maybe when they’re 11, 12 or 13. By the time they graduate to the main tennis tour, many patterns have already been set, “she says.
“And then there’s the coaches. The best way to protect their charges is to put them through an education process before they arrive on tour. The same goes for other credential-holders: physios, fitness trainers and so on. The point has to be made very clearly: these kinds of relationships are not appropriate, and there will be consequences for those who cross the line.”