Marino ready to get back in the swing

Cana­dian re­turns to the sport after a multi-year ab­sence to deal with ‘burnout’ is­sues

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MEL­BOURNE, AUS­TRALIA—FOR the first point she played at a Grand Slam event in six years, Re­becca Marino hit an ace.

She cel­e­brated with a sub­tle fist pump, de­ter­mined to have the best next act she could after a lengthy in­ter­mis­sion dur­ing which she be­came the face of de­pres­sion among ath­letes.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the mo­ment, just go­ing from tour­na­ment to tour­na­ment now,” Marino said. “But if I stop and think about it, then that’s when I see that it’s pretty cool that I was able to do this, and to get this far, from no rank­ing to sud­denly in the qualies of a Slam.”

Marino lost, 6-2, 6-2, to Caro­line Dole­hide on Tues­day in the first round of Aus­tralian Open qual­i­fy­ing, lim­ited by a back in­jury, which cur­tailed her off-sea­son train­ing.

De­spite her stiff­ness, Marino, 28, showed flashes of the power and clean ball-strik­ing that sent her into the up­per ech­e­lons of ten­nis seven years ago.

With a per­cus­sive fore­hand and a boom­ing serve that topped out at 120 m.p.h., Marino surged to a high of 38th in the rank­ings in the sum­mer of 2011, when she was 20. Not a highly touted ju­nior prospect, she had

planned to en­rol in col­lege be­fore her ten­nis suc­cesses mounted, cat­a­pult­ing her faster and fur­ther than she was pre­pared to han­dle.

“Not ex­pect­ing it, I felt like I was thrown into this ma­chine and I didn’t un­der­stand how it worked,” she said.

Marino stepped back from the sport for the first time in 2012, tak­ing seven months off. After re­turn­ing for sev­eral months, she re­tired in Fe­bru­ary 2013 at age 22.

In a con­fer­ence call an­nounc­ing her de­ci­sion, Marino re­vealed her strug­gles with de­pres­sion; days ear­lier, she had dis­cussed her so­cial me­dia abuse in an in­ter­view with the New York Times. Her

leav­ing the sport was often at­trib­uted to one of those fac­tors, or both of them, which Marino said was in­ac­cu­rate in ret­ro­spect.

“When I look back, I wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily say it was de­pres­sion,” she said of her de­ci­sion to stop play­ing. “It was burnout, and it was ex­pec­ta­tions put on my shoul­ders by my­self and oth­ers, and I just wasn’t able to cope.

“It all came to a head in a big, gi­ant burnout, I guess.”

She said after she stepped away from ten­nis she was “able to be­come su­per-happy and en­joy my life.”

Marino’s re­tire­ment at 22 gen­er­ated con­sid­er­able at­ten­tion, par­tic­u­larly in her na­tive Canada, where she was one of the bright­est ten­nis prospects in gen­er­a­tions.

Her story res­onated with oth­ers, but she felt un­easy be­ing a touch­stone for ath­letes strug­gling with de­pres­sion.

“It wasn’t some­thing I was pre­pared for, and it’s still some­thing I’m grap­pling with,” Marino said. “I’m still a re­ally pri­vate per­son, and so for peo­ple to come up to me and tell me all of the things they’ve dealt with, or how I’ve af­fected them, it’s dif­fi­cult some­times, be­cause I don’t re­ally know what to say. Even though I’m happy that I’ve helped peo­ple, it can be over­whelm­ing be­cause I’m not pro­fes­sion­ally trained to help peo­ple.”

After re­tir­ing from ten­nis, Marino worked one sum­mer for her fam­ily’s con­struc­tion busi­ness, pour­ing ce­ment and dig­ging through clay. She later be­gan teach­ing ten­nis lessons and en­rolled at the Uni­ver­sity of Bri­tish Columbia, where she stud­ied Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture. The works she en­joyed most, she said, were ones from the Vic­to­rian era that grap­pled with the ef­fects of in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion on so­ci­ety.

After a false start be­cause she did not re-en­ter ten­nis’ anti-dop­ing pro­gram in time, Marino re­turned to the sport at its low­est rung last Jan­uary, at a se­ries of small tour­na­ments in Turkey.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO

Re­becca Marino de­cided to step away from ten­nis as the re­sult of cy­ber­bul­ly­ing and de­pres­sion in 2013, but at 28 she has re­turned to the game.

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