As first appeared in Boxscore
By Aron Solomon
Eva Lys is a 21-year-old German professional tennis player and this is what she dealt with on Saturday when she turned on her phone following a semi-final loss in a WTA tournament in Romania:
Lys was ranked 133rd in the world prior to this week’s tournament and is now 113th in the live rankings, only one spot from her career high.
2023 has been a superb year for her, having earned $312,490 of her career $447,064 earnings. While Lys is a player who struggled her first couple of years on tour, she has really come into her own this year and should soon break into the coveted top 100.
Part of what comes with a player’s rise today is this kind of dangerous attention. As William Cooper, a New York lawyer, points out, “Online harassment of professional athletes, which has become widespread, is no different from harassment of any other person. Threats can and should be taken seriously and reported to the relevant authorities in the given jurisdiction.”
But how does any athlete – any human – report or even begin to process this depth of hate? For losing a tennis match?
It’s easy to say that these online trolls are deeply pathetic people, which they absolutely are. But while they can’t and shouldn’t be able to obviate their personal responsibility, sports gambling as an industry plays is absolutely a dangerous catalyst here.
Sports gambling has become a massive industry, with billions of dollars being wagered on various sports every year. Tennis is one sport that has seen astonishing growth in the numbers of people betting and the dollars involved.
Tennis is now tied to gambling in many ways, with almost every major aspect of the sport being connected to it. Gambling on tennis has become a $50 billion industry, with people betting on the outcomes of matches, as well as parts of very obscure matches, such as a point or a set or a game.
Over 180 professional tennis players participated in a global match-fixing ring, which was built by a man named Grigor Sargsyan, who infiltrated the sport and paid pros more to lose matches or parts of matches than they could make by winning tournaments. Today, tennis ranks third among the most wagered-on sports in the world, after soccer and basketball.
Part of the reason for this is that the professional tennis season isn’t 6 months a year like the NFL, it’s 10 months a year. Professional tennis tournaments span the globe and every timezone, meaning that you can often bet on live tennis at almost any hour of the day – indeed, tennis has little competition during the workday for sports gambling addicts.
At the same time Eva Lys endured this harassment, a 14-year-old Brit, Hannah Klugman, made a deep run in a professional tournament in England, before losing in the quarter-finals to France’s Océane Dodin, who was once ranked 46th in the world.
I personally didn’t have the stomach to look at the comments on Hannah Klugman’s social media accounts after her loss. Remarkably, where gambling is legal, it is also perfectly legal to bet on a 14-year-old playing tennis. If Klugman might have been mercifully spared the collective gamblers’ wrath this week, there are many more perilous weeks ahead for a young person just beginning her journey on the pro tour.
For Eva Lys, who, parenthetically, is by all accounts remarkably smart, kind, and generally wonderful, there was at least a small silver lining this weekend – a massive social media outpouring by her fans around the world.
Back to the larger and harsher reality, anyone who believes that the treatment Lys received is an anomaly on the women’s tour needs to think again. Judy Murray, famed tennis star Andy Murray’s mother and former coach, recently wrote that many players on the WTA Tour face online harassment and even death threats from gamblers. Murray characterized this abuse as “a big problem” and not one with any hope in sight for improvement.
As a sad end note, this is from Thursday, five short days after the Lys event.
Daria Kasatkina is among the ten best players in the world. And, as she aptly points out here, this is the abuse she took for winning her match on Thursday morning in Zhuhai, China, in the Elite Trophy.
The only way for these threats to actually stop is for the wide open gates of sports gambling to be closed, even gently and slightly. Given that there’s no way that is going to happen any time soon – perhaps even in our lifetimes – this online harassment in yet one more thing players need to endure in an already grueling existence going from city to city, trying to earn enough tour ranking points and money to move up the ladder or even survive.
About Aron Solomon
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and the Editor-in-Chief for Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, YouTube, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.