Sexual abuse of young female players by older male coaches happens 'right and left' on the WTA Tour and safeguarding against it must be a priority, Victoria Azarenka said at the US Open on Saturday.
Azarenka's remarks to reporters came after Pierre Bouteyre, the former coach of French player Fiona Ferro, was charged in France on Thursday with raping and sexually assaulting her when she was a teenager between 2012 and 2015, according to AFP.
Bouteyre's lawyer told AFP that a relationship had occurred but denied any coercion. The lawyer said the 50-year-old Bouteyre described the relationship as "a true love story."
Azarenka, who sits on the eight-person WTA players council, said that combating abuse was the group's top priority.
"We see those vulnerable young ladies that (are) getting taken advantage of in different situations," she said.
"It's really sad and really makes me emotional," she said. "If I had a daughter, I would have a question would she want to play tennis, that would be a very big concern in that way for me."
Former number one Azarenka, who reached the tournament's fourth round on Saturday, applauded Ferro for her bravery in speaking out.
Ferro, 25, won two WTA titles and reached as high as world number 39 last year but is currently ranked 259 and lost during tournament qualifiers last week.
"I hope this situation she's gonna come out of it stronger and tennis is not ruined for her because of that," Azarenka said.
She implored journalists at the news conference to do their part to expose abuse. "Do the research, help people to open up more. Hopefully one by one try to eliminate those types of situations."
Czech Karolina Pliskova, another former world number one, was unsure if the women's tennis body could be of much help, saying she felt it was the responsibility of parents to ensure that the abuse of players does not happen.
Current world number one Iga Swiatek, 21, said she had never faced such a situation and was keeping the faith in the WTA.
"I hope that if something like that happens, we're going to kind of be safe and have trust in WTA that they're going to take care of this stuff properly," the two-time French Open champion said. "I'm sure they're doing that."