Social media: Hit or miss?

Published by Leigh Rogers

CAPTURING A MOMENT: Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev and Lleyton Hewitt take a selfie in Sydney; Getty Images
Fans can engage with players more than ever thanks to the rise of social media. But for the world’s best players it comes with its challenges too. We asked them how they deal with it.

After Elena Vesnina ended her 2017 season, she tweeted “thanks to my fans for all your love and support”.

Many responded to congratulate her on a season that saw the 31-year-old Russian set a new career-high singles ranking of No.13 and win her biggest singles title yet at Indian Wells. She also won three doubles titles, including Wimbledon, to finish at a career-best doubles ranking of No.3.

Still, these results did not please all – and some social media users weren’t afraid to respond to Vesnina and tell her.

Ironic? Perhaps so, but managing social media criticism is now as a routine as hitting forehands for the world’s best players. Engaging with fans leaves them increasingly open to scathing criticisms and even cruel personal attacks from online trolls.

“You just have to deal with this because social media is really important to be close to your fans,” Vesnina told Australian Tennis Magazine. “The good thing is that there are more nice people than idiots on social media.”

The four-time Grand Slam doubles champion recounted 20-year-old compatriot Daria Kasatkina being abused during the 2017 season when one of her matches was rescheduled due to poor weather.

“Dasha didn’t even play her match, it got cancelled and rescheduled, and she was getting messages being called a b**** and being told she should die. This is terrible, we need to do something about this,” Vesnina said.

“Even when you win a match sometimes you get abused. Telling someone you wish they would die or talking about their family, it’s just horrible.”

Vesnina has a simple strategy for anyone who sends her those kind of messages.

“I block right away now, I don’t even read if I can tell it is negative,” she said.

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Australian Daria Gavrilova admits she is an avid social media user – “I’m addicted, but not like crazy,” she says – and has learnt to do the same.

“I’ve answered to a few being sarcastic, but they’re just idiots with nothing else to do. I just laugh at them now and block them. The ones in Russian I try to delete right away so my mum doesn’t see them,” the 23-year-old said.

“It’s really sad to be honest, in a way I sometimes almost feel sorry for the people writing such sad stuff.”

Romanian Sorana Cirstea, the world No.38, is a more reluctant social media user.

“I was never into social media, I don’t even have a personal Facebook page, just an athlete one,” said the 27-year-old.

“I was forced to do Twitter and Instagram by my agent, then with time I started to enjoy it. I think it is like everything in life, it depends on how you look at it. There are great things about it, like getting in contact with your fans and seeing the messages of appreciation.

“I think it is important for keeping in contact with the fans and for them to get an insight into my life and personality.”

Yet Cirstea, who shared on social media she spent time with former world No.1 Ana Ivanovic in Chicago during her off-season, agrees some users take their criticism too far.

QUIZ: Were you paying attention in the off-season?

“I don’t check it after a loss,” she admits.

“You have two options, either get upset or just ignore it. I don’t take it personal, for me that was the biggest lesson. I know for some players it is tough, the negativity, but for me I don’t take it that seriously. I know who I am, I know my values. I know that if I lose a match, nothing changes.”

For world No.5 Grigor Dimitrov, the intrusive nature of social media is the biggest challenge.

“To me privacy is everything. Whether it is on or off the court, I really appreciate it. When I’m around my friends there are no phones allowed. I’m like ‘guys, let it be. Let’s just chill for a second and enjoy a nice dinner’,” he said.

Yet the 26-year-old Bulgarian, who has over 1.7 million followers on his social media channels, admits today’s players have no choice but to embrace it.

“Here and there taking pictures for memories is okay and of course you need to give to your fans, your sponsors and the tour,” he said.

“Let’s face it, it is what it is. It surrounds us everywhere nowadays. You do something and people already know. Years ago that wouldn’t have happened but now everything gets covered.”

Dimitrov’s solution is not to let social media become a distraction, especially during tournaments.

“I think that is why it is so important to focus on your own team and your own stuff,” he said.

“I’m trying to do the best I can with that.”

This article was originally published in Australian Tennis Magazine.

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