Dealing with stalkers in professional tennis is seen almost...
...entirely as a female problem. Not necessarily, warns Luke Jensen.
Thursday, September 5
Jensen: It's an invasion of privacy
By Greg Garber
NEW YORK -- Dealing with stalkers in professional tennis is seen almost entirely as a female problem. Not necessarily, warns Luke Jensen.
Jensen, half of the colorful U.S. doubles duo, along with his younger brother Murphy, said he got his first whiff of celebrity when he was a Davis Cup practice partner in the early 1990s.
"It was Andre (Agassi), Pete (Sampras) and Johnny Mc(Enroe)," Jensen remembered Wednesday night, after a seniors doubles match at the U.S. Open. "I was just a sparring partner, carry their bags. I mean, it was unbelievable the attention they got.
"The girls were everywhere. A lot of them gave me gifts for Andre. When I was with him, you'd see panties, naked pictures with notes. You know,' 'Call me, it's automatic.' "
When Jensen, 36 and now an ESPN analyst, began to enjoy modest success of his own -- he and Murphy won the 1993 French Open doubles crown -- his opportunities improved considerably. Tennis, unlike major team sports, does not operate from the same site game after game. So, Jensen began to develop a global following.
There was the girl who always managed to find him at the official hotel in Hong Kong, another one in Australia, another in Munich and Rome. There was one in the United States, too.
"To the point," Jensen said, "where it became way too much."
Until Debbie -- not her real name -- came onto the scene in the spring of 1996.
"I had just lost a qualifier in a Challenger (match) in Birmingham, when I saw her for the first time," Jensen said. "She was 5-5 and kind of -- let's just say I was never attracted to her in (a sexual) way. Later, I got a letter from her with a friendship bracelet. I never thought about it much; I do a lot of work with tennis clubs, so getting my address isn't that big a deal.
"I wrote her a postcard back thanking her. I don't get tons of mail, so it's something I try to keep up with."
Several months later, Debbie appeared at a World Team Tennis event that Jensen played as a member of the Atlanta Thunder. In her late 20s, she stood in line for an autograph. But when Jensen couldn't remember her name, she grew testy.
"You wrote back to me," Jensen remembered her saying. "How did you forget my name?"
Jensen and his brother Murphy were practicing on one of the two tennis courts in their Atlanta subdivision in December, 1996.
"I mean, this subdivision isn't easy to get to, and she's sitting there watching us practice. Two guys in Cartoon Network gear, banging away.
"I got her name wrong again, which upset her, and asked her what she was doing. She said she had just moved to Atlanta and was driving around and saw two tennis players. It was too coincidental, you know? Me and Murphy just walked home, 50 yards down the street.
"It really wasn't a bad feeling. You're just -- she's just a little too much. I never felt threatened at that time."
On Christmas Day, Jensen and his brother were preparing to leave for Doha, Qatar, for the first event of the 1997 tennis season. Debbie presented him with two personal drawings, one depicting him and Scooby Doo on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle -- one of his favorite icons -- and a picture of his fish tank. It was a decent representation, but when Jensen looked closer, he was unnerved.
"My water purifier had broken, and I had propped it up with a stick. Now, I don't draw my blinds, and you can see the fish tanks 35 feet away from the sidewalk ... but you couldn't possibly see the stick. That was my Christmas present.
"I'll never forget that."
Debbie would show up, unannounced, at various tournaments around the country. She'd send letters and e-mails. According to Jensen, it was only small talk -- nothing overtly threatening. She began to wear leather clothes featuring Harley-Davidson trademarks. Once, she bought a lesson from Luke offered in a charity auction for a friend.
After a few years, Debbie drifted out of his life. She attended graduate school in the Midwest and, eventually, migrated to California.
Last year, playing a senior event at Stanford, Jensen was shocked to hear from Debbie again. She wanted tickets to the event. He complied. She asked for a ride from the airport. Again, he complied -- except that she yelled at him for being late.
She wound up in the room next to him at the official hotel -- he swears he doesn't know how -- that was when Jensen finally decided to sever ties with Debbie completely.
In January, 2002, Jensen said he got another call.
"She was going through a rough time," he said. "She said, 'I'm in a bad place. I've tried to commit suicide. The doctor says I need to talk to friends.'
"Now, I've got no reason to think she's not in a bad place, so I listen. She was very, very negative. She told me she wanted to go to the World Team Tennis match my (Hartford) team was playing later that summer in Sacramento. I shouldn't have, but I said OK. I didn't want that hanging over me."
Once again, Debbie managed to book the hotel room right next to Jensen's.
"She was mad about that, too," Jensen said. "She wanted to know why she couldn't stay with me. I said, 'Friends stay together, you're a fan.' That set her off.
"Through the walls, I heard her screaming and tearing up the place. She was very emotional. After the morning practice I felt like I had to take her to lunch. She asked why I didn't call her back. You could see a big scar on her thigh where she had stabbed herself with something."
Debbie, Jensen said, expressed surprise that he was rejecting her.
"I brought up the whole Monica (Seles stabbing) thing," he said. "I said if you're suicidal, what's to stop you from coming after me?
"And she said, 'It's not that way.'
"I said, "You're a fan that writes and calls. I called you back originally because you said you were committing suicide. That's not friendship. That's the last time I talked to her. She hasn't called back.
"But the last thing she said was, 'I'll be back in Atlanta in October.' "
Jensen, in retrospect, wishes he had the backbone of his brother Murphy.
"Murphy is good at this," Jensen said. "The girl from Italy would be calling at all hours and he'd just get on the phone and say, 'Don't call back!' I can't do that."
Why do people seek celebrities?
"Because the grass is always greener," Jensen said. "People want to be associated with the other side."
Jensen said he wishes the ATP would educate the players about fans like Debbie. He said he'd like to be a part of that education process.
"Everyone has a crush on somebody, at one time or another," Jensen said. "But something like this ... it's an invasion of privacy. You can't just be nice because things can get scary."
Greg Garber is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
How to deal with a stalker
Don't let someone down easy. Give the stalker a definitive no and then never contact or respond to him or her again. Further contact validates the imagined relationship.
Do not try to reason or bargain with a stalker. A stalker's behavior will not change. Unfortunately, the victim will need to adjust their behavior to cope with the potential threat.
Do not give in to any demands or respond to the stalker.
Keep a record of incidents in case you decide to report or prosecute.
Consider a restraining order. Research the local laws first to find out if the stalker will be arrested or merely be issued a citation.
Enlist family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to help and be aware.
Listen to your instincts.
Each stalking situation is different. Have an experienced threat management team assess the risk.
Sources: antistalking.com, stalkingbehavior.com, Safe Horizon and Gavin de Becker and Associates
I hope all the tennis players (female and male) take precautions for their security.