I have been suffering from a form of depression for many years. It got to the point last February where I couldn't go on. … Depression is nothing to be ashamed of. I'm hoping, by opening up about this, I can encourage someone to get the help they deserve. … Social media has been taking a toll on me, but it's not the main reason. It's my depression.”—Rebecca Marino, the 22-year-old who recently left the game despite having hit a career-high ranking of No. 38 in July 2011.
Marino is not the first player to suffer from depression, but she’s one of the few who has confronted and admitted to struggling with it. (Another one is former American Top 10 pro Cliff Richey, who’s written a valuable book about his own painful experience.)
Tennis may not be more conducive to depression than other sports, but it’s undeniable that it can be a lonely game, especially for a journeyman player. And the endless cycle of practice-play-travel-practice-play, etc. etc., as well as the repetitive nature of the game—how many times has Rafael Nadal hit the same forehand?—can create a monotonous if essentially comfortable grind.
The only real antidote to the negative aspects of the grind and the pro lifestyle is winning. But as Richey has written, even that is not necessarily enough.
Marino’s ranking went into freefall not long after her breakout season, and she’s presently No. 418, this after having already taken a long break from the game. It raises that chicken-and-egg debate: Did losing accelerate her depression, or did depression accelerate the losing?
It’s an interesting question, but the thing that leaps out from this quote is Marino’s reference to social media. It appears that she was deeply wounded by things said and written about her in Twitter and other outlets, while admitting something else that many tennis players bend over backwards to deny: She tended to devour every word said about her.
“Things were being written about me, and I’m quite sensitive about that,” Marino said. “And I’m quite nosy, so I’ll look it up. And then I’ll realize I shouldn’t have looked it up. With professional athletes, people put them on a pedestal sometimes, and they forget that they’re actually a person still.”
Of course, any successful tennis player (or Internet-based journalist, for that matter) could have told Marino that she ought to steer clear of reading about herself unless she has rhino hide for skin—or is the new toast of the tennis town.
Marino is a sensitive and seemingly naïve young lady, and that makes her curious, melancholy history that much more poignant. Let’s give her credit for having the courage to make this enormous decision to quit. She’s left the door open for a potential second comeback, but the best result would be for Marino simply to find happiness. Let’s wish her the best.