NEW YORK (AP) — Shortly after losing in U.S. Open qualifying a year ago, tennis player Fiona Ferro accused her former coach, Pierre Bouteyre, of rape. That case is still pending, and Ferro took a few months off from the tour after going public with her story, but she returned to Flushing Meadows on Monday to play in the Grand Slam tournament’s main draw for the first time since 2021.
Ferro, a wild-card entry from France who lost to two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 6-2 in the first round, said she has not hired a new personal coach. Instead, she is working as part of a collection of about a half-dozen players with a coach from the French tennis federation, Eric Winogradsky.
“I wasn’t feeling really ready to get into a new project with a coach, 1-to-1,” Ferro said Monday. “I think I needed to be in a group with other players, because it was tough for me to be alone with only one coach.”
After her hiatus from the sport through the end of last season, Ferro began playing club matches with friends that, she explained, “made me want to play tennis again.”
“I think I really needed that break, because it was a lot things at the same time. With the case, I had to deal with some tough moments,” said the 26-year-old Ferro, who has been ranked as high as No. 39 and reached the fourth round of the 2020 French Open. “Then I started practicing at the federation again.”
The Associated Press typically does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly.
Ferro wrote on social media last year about her accusation against Bouteyre and said, “I did not consent.”
She was just one of the female tennis players who brought attention to the issue of protecting athletes from predatory coaches. The women’s tennis tour, the WTA, hired a director of safeguarding at the end of 2022, Lindsay Brandon, a lawyer whose past clients include athletes disputing doping suspensions.
“For the moment, my case is still ongoing, so I can’t really talk about it. But the (French) federation supports me in that. They provide a coach. And I feel like I can talk to them and can be understood. So for me, that’s an important point,” Ferro said.
“They’re really listening to me and, yes, I think they’re trying to do things regarding this kind of problem, because obviously it’s not just something that happened to me over the last years, but I think it also happened to other players — or maybe not in tennis, but in other sports,” she said. “So it’s something that needs to be addressed. The federation is trying to work on it.”
Ferro said she also has received support from the WTA, and from other athletes, during her legal case.
“Some players came to me (to talk in the locker room) and said that I was brave and wishing all the best to me,” Ferro said.
When their match ended in Louis Armstrong Stadium on Monday, Azarenka — a former No. 1 player seeded 18th at the U.S. Open — put a hand on Ferro’s shoulder and leaned forward to offer “some kind words” in her ear, as Ferro put it.
“She told me that she was so happy to see me back and she wished me good luck for the next tournaments,” Ferro said. “So for me, it’s so nice to hear that. It really was moving.”