Player sues USTA over allegation coach abused her

March 29, 2022 GMT

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — A tennis player alleges in a lawsuit against the U.S. Tennis Association that the governing body for the sport failed to protect her from a coach who she says sexually abused her at one of its training centers when she was 19.

Kylie McKenzie alleged coach Anibal Aranda touched her vagina after a practice in November 2018 at the USTA’s training center in Orlando, Florida. Before touching her, Aranda, then 34, told McKenzie she was beautiful and asked questions about her body, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in central Florida.

In earlier encounters, McKenzie alleges Aranda touched her stomach and waist when talking about her weight, tried to intertwine his arm with her extended arm while she held a phone, and pressed his body against her back side and grabbed her hips under the guise of instructing her on technique in her serve.

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At a news conference in Tempe, Arizona, on Tuesday, McKenzie tearfully told reporters that the sexual abuse had negatively affected her confidence and self-esteem and that the anxiety she felt from the abuse consumed her on the tennis court in 2019 and 2020. “It has been damaging to me as a person and as a player,” McKenzie said.

The Associated Press generally doesn’t name alleged sexual assault victims, but McKenzie agreed to let her identity be known in news coverage about her lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that Aranda, who was employed by USTA for about seven years and later fired, used his position as a USTA coach to get access to vulnerable female athletes and commit sexual battery against them.

In a statement, USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier said USTA and USTA Player Development had no knowledge of harassment or inappropriate conduct by Aranda until McKenzie reported the incident. “USTA and Player Development followed its established procedures in acting swiftly to report the incident and protect and support Ms. McKenzie,” Widmaier said.

Efforts to reach Aranda, who wasn’t named as a defendant in the lawsuit, for comment through phone calls and emails Tuesday were unsuccessful.

The New York Times has reported that Aranda denied inappropriately touching McKenzie in his testimony during an investigation by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which examines harassment and other abuse allegations in U.S. sports.

The lawsuit said SafeSport found by a preponderance of evidence that Aranda engaged in inappropriate conduct toward McKenzie and cited a 2015 incident on the dance floor of a New York club where Aranda was “grinding” against a young woman who worked for USTA and rubbed her vagina outside her clothes.

The woman, whose identity wasn’t revealed in the lawsuit, didn’t report the incident to anyone at USTA and didn’t take measures to prevent Aranda from engaging in inappropriate behavior with McKenzie or other female athletes, the lawsuit said.

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The lawsuit said one of McKenzie’s earlier USTA coaches discouraged her from completing her school work, told boys not to talk to her and reprimanded her when she first kissed a boy when she was 15. Other players joked that the coach, who isn’t named in the lawsuit, was in love with her, and McKenzie overheard parents at a training center talking about how the relationship between her and her coach was unusual, according to the lawsuit.

And while in Texas for a tournament when she was 16, another coach joked that he was in possession of McKenzie’s underwear after he asked her to take his dirty clothes and wash it with hers, the lawsuit alleged.

As a junior player, McKenzie reached a career-high of 33rd in the rankings in February 2016. The year before, she compiled a 20-6 record in junior competition, including victories over Sofia Kenin, who would go on to win the championship at the 2020 Australian Open, and Tamara Zidansek, later a semifinalist at the 2021 French Open.

Anibal Aranda Villalba is listed on the USTA’s list of suspended or ineligible individuals as being “on probation for 2 years upon return to sport” for what is described as “sexual misconduct, sexual harassment.”

Aranda joined the staff of USTA Player Development in January 2014 as a national coach for women’s tennis. Among the other players he worked with was CiCi Bellis, the 2017 WTA Newcomer of the Year who reached the third round at three Grand Slam tournaments before retiring this year following a series of injuries.