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Kylie McKenzie Speaks Out Against a Former U.S.T.A. Coach


PHOENIX — Kylie McKenzie, once certainly one of America’s most promising junior tennis players, is for now back where she began, hitting balls on a neighborhood court, often along with her father, living at home while attempting to rescue what once gave the look of a can’t-miss future.

There may be little doubt where that future went astray. In 2018, McKenzie, then 19, was working closely with a top coach at the USA Tennis Association’s national training center in Orlando, Fla.

Anibal Aranda liked to take her to the distant courts of the tennis center, where, she said, he praised her and put his hands on her body during their workouts, pressing against her while she practiced her serve.

Possibly, McKenzie thought, it was because Aranda had grown up in Paraguay and was less aware of the type of physical contact considered appropriate in the USA. For six years, Aranda had coached for the united statesT.A., which had been supporting McKenzie’s profession and practically raising her at its academies since she was 12. Its officials trusted him, and she or he trusted them, and so she trusted him, too.

On Nov. 9, 2018, Aranda sat so near her on a bench after practice that their legs touched, after which he put his hand between her thighs, she said. She later learned she was not the one person to accuse him of sexual misconduct.

Throughout the last week, Aranda has not responded to repeated phone calls and text messages searching for comment, sent to a mobile number associated together with his name. Howard Jacobs, the lawyer who represented him during an investigation by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which investigates reports of abuse in American sports, said Aranda was now not a client of his.

In his testimony in the course of the SafeSport investigation, Aranda denied ever touching McKenzie inappropriately, either during or after training. He suggested McKenzie had fabricated a story because she had been told that the united statesT.A. was planning to stop supporting her. Accusing him of abuse, Aranda said, would make it tougher for the organization to chop her off, an assertion U.S.T.A. coaches and McKenzie rejected.

The SafeSport records are confidential, but The Latest York Times has reviewed a duplicate of the ultimate ruling, the investigator’s report, and notes from her interviews with a dozen witnesses, including Aranda. The Times has also reviewed a duplicate of the police report by an Orlando detective.

“I would like to be clear, I never touched her vagina,” Aranda told a SafeSport investigator, in accordance with those records. “I never touched her inappropriately. All these items she’s saying are twisted.”

The incident, which McKenzie quickly reported to friends, relatives, U.S.T.A. officials and law enforcement, led to a cascade of events over the following three years. The usT.A. suspended after which fired Aranda. A lengthy investigation by SafeSport found it “more likely than not” that Aranda had assaulted McKenzie. Police took a press release from McKenzie, stated there was probable cause for a charge of battery, then turned the evidence over to the state attorney’s office, which ultimately opted to not pursue a case. McKenzie said she began to experience panic attacks and depression, which have hampered her attempts to reclaim her tennis prowess.

But what especially troubles McKenzie, now 23, is something that she only learned reading the confidential SafeSport investigative report on her case. An worker at the united statesT.A had the same experience with Aranda about five years earlier, but selected to maintain the data to herself.

The usT.A. was unaware of that incident because the worker said she didn’t tell anyone until she was interviewed by the SafeSport investigator for McKenzie’s case.

“To know he had a history, that nearly doubled the trauma,” McKenzie said last week at a coffee shop not removed from her home. “I trusted them,” she said of the united statesT.A. “I all the time saw them as guardians. I assumed it was a protected place.”

McKenzie’s case highlights what some in tennis have long viewed as systemic problems with how young players, especially women, turn out to be professionals. Players often leave home at a young age for training academies, where they often work closely with male coaches who function mentors, surrogate parents and guardians on trips to tournaments.

Chris Widmaier, a spokesman for the united statesT.A., said any suggestion that its academies are unsafe was inaccurate. He said the organization’s safety measures include worker background checks, training on harassment and the way predators goal and make potential victims vulnerable to advances, in addition to multiple ways to report inappropriate or abusive conduct.

“Greater than three years ago, an incident was reported by Ms. McKenzie and that report was treated with absolute seriousness and urgency,” Widmaier said in a press release. “The usT.A. immediately, with none hesitation or delay, notified the U.S. Center for SafeSport and cooperated in a full and thorough investigation of the incident. The usT.A. suspended the offending party on the day of the report and has not permitted him back on property or at any U.S.T.A.-sponsored function or event since. Along with promptly reporting this incident, the united statesT.A. worked with Ms. McKenzie and her representatives to make sure that she felt protected while she continued to coach and advance her tennis profession. The usT.A. supported Ms. McKenzie before, during and after the incident.”

Widmaier said the organization was working to extend the variety of female coaches. It has added women to its staff at its national training centers — there are actually five women, six men and three open positions on its national coaching staff — and developed a training fellowship program by which women must account for half the enrollment.

McKenzie has repeated her account of the events on multiple occasions, to friends, U.S.T.A. officials and law enforcement. To find McKenzie’s account credible, SafeSport investigators wrote that her account had remained consistent and was supported by contemporary evidence, including text messages and U.S.T.A. records.

In 2019, SafeSport suspended Aranda, 38, from coaching for 2 years and placed him on probation for a further two years. Aranda is certainly one of 77 people involved with tennis on the U.S.T.A.’s suspended or ineligible list because they’ve been convicted or accused of sexual or physical abuse.

McKenzie began playing tennis at 4 when her father, Mark, put a racket in her hands. By fourth grade she was being home-schooled so she could practice more.

When she was 12, coaches with the united statesT.A., who had seen her at tournaments and camps, offered her a chance to coach full time at its development academy in Carson, Calif. She moved with the family of one other elite junior player from Arizona, leaving her parents and two younger siblings behind.

Inside just a few years she was homesick and burned out. Coaches kept her on the court for hours after training to discuss life and tennis, and one yelled at her while they attended a tournament at Indian Wells when he came upon she had kissed a boy at 14.

McKenzie left Carson in 2014 and returned to Arizona. But after she won two top-level junior tournaments, officials with the united statesT.A. persuaded her to maneuver to the training center in Florida.

A shoulder injury eventually sent her back to Arizona for 18 months, but in 2018 she returned to Florida, moving in with relatives on Merritt Island. She occasionally spent the night at the house of her friend, CiCi Bellis, then a top American prospect. Bellis was injured on the time, allowing her coach, Anibal Aranda, to work with other players.

McKenzie was initially flattered by Aranda’s attention and praise. “He told me: ‘You’re a champion. I would like to work with you,’” McKenzie said of Aranda. “I had every reason to trust him.”

One U.S.T.A. worker would have said otherwise.

Throughout the SafeSport investigation into McKenzie’s incident, the worker, who just isn’t being identified to guard her privacy, told the investigator that just a few years earlier, Aranda had groped her and rubbed her vagina on a dance floor at a Latest York club during an evening out with colleagues in the course of the U.S. Open. The worker said that she left the club immediately but that Aranda followed her and tried to get in a taxi alone along with her, which she resisted.

After the united statesT.A. worker learned about McKenzie’s accusations, she regretted not reporting her allegations, she told the investigator.

Aranda denied touching the girl inappropriately. He told the investigator he remembered the night on the dance club but didn’t recall details of the evening.

What follows is the story that McKenzie told U.S.T.A. officials, a SafeSport investigator, police, and shared with The Latest York Times last week.

By October 2018, McKenzie was training almost exclusively with Aranda, alone with him for several hours on daily basis. Initially, their hitting sessions took place on the busier hardcourts, but he soon moved them to clay courts that got little foot traffic, telling her that the slower surface would improve her footwork. He scheduled training for 11 a.m., though most players practiced earlier to avoid the midday heat.

Every day, she said, Aranda increased his physical contact along with her. Pats of encouragement moved down her back until he was grazing the highest of her buttocks. He brushed against her as they walked to the courts, making casual contact along with her breasts.

He used her phone to film her rehearsal, then inched closer to her as they sat on a bench watching the video until their legs touched. Sometimes, she said, he held the back of her hand as she held her phone and intertwined his arm with hers. Then he began resting his arm on her thigh as they talked. Sometimes he would say, “You’re too skinny,” and grab her stomach and rub her sides and waist. He would ask her how her shoulder felt and massage it, she told the investigator.

Under the guise of showing McKenzie correct body position and technique, he pushed the front of his body against her back and placed his hands on her hips as she served, moving them to her underwear. One other time, he knelt and held her hips from the front, his face inches from her groin. She dreaded practicing her serve.

He also made her repeat every day affirmations. Some were about tennis, but others weren’t. “He’d say, ‘Say you’re beautiful because you’re,’” McKenzie said.

Aranda told the investigator he used affirmations in training but only those focused on tennis. He acknowledged touching McKenzie’s hands, feet and hips to show proper body position but denied holding her from behind or touching her groin.

On Nov. 9, 2018, McKenzie felt uneasy as she walked to the court for her late-morning training session, certain Aranda desired to practice serving. He did, she said, grinding against her harder than ever as she practiced her service motion.

At the tip of practice he asked her if she thought she was pretty. She was wearing leggings and had placed a towel on her lap. Aranda rested his hand on her right upper thigh. Suddenly, she felt it between her legs, “rubbing her upper labia,” in accordance with the report.

McKenzie elbowed him away. Aranda then knelt in front of her, and began aggressively massaging her calves and knees. He asked her what she wanted him to be. She told him she just wanted him to educate her and supply mental training, a solution that appeared to agitate him.

“Oh, that’s it?” he said, she told the investigator.

As they left the court, she said, Aranda asked her to walk to a shed to store the tennis balls. She walked with him but didn’t enter the shed. A number of minutes later, sitting on one other bench, he spoke to her about finding an agent and sponsors. He tried to hug her as she hunched on the bench. She didn’t hug him back, and left.

McKenzie went to Bellis’s home and, shaking and crying, told her what happened. They called Bellis’s mother, who urged them to report the incident to the united statesT.A. Bellis and McKenzie called Jessica Battaglia, then the senior manager of player development for the organization. Bellis helped McKenzie, who struggled to talk, retell the story.

Battaglia immediately contacted senior officials with the united statesT.A., including Malmqvist and Martin Blackman, the overall manager of player development, and feminine employees who needed to be notified, in accordance with her testimony within the report. U.S.T.A. officials informed Aranda that a report had been made and that he would now not be allowed on the training center.

Ola Malmqvist, then the director of coaching for the united statesT.A., told the SafeSport investigator that shortly after being suspended, a distraught Aranda called Malmqvist and said: “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I made a mistake.” Then, Malmqvist said, Aranda added, “It wasn’t bad,” and likewise, “But I made a mistake.” Malmqvist also said Aranda “made some comment along the lines of, ‘I got too near her.’” Aranda later told investigators that he didn’t recall making those statements.

In a while the day of the alleged assault, Aranda texted McKenzie to ask whether she had done her fitness workout and likewise added her on Snapchat. (She supplied the investigator with screen shots of her phone.) When she didn’t reply to his messages or pick up his phone calls, he began calling Bellis. The buddies went to a hotel that night so Aranda wouldn’t know where to search out McKenzie.

McKenzie gave a sworn statement to the police in Orlando on Nov. 29. The detective wrote in his report that probable cause existed for a charge of battery. But prosecutors wrote to McKenzie in February 2020 to say they didn’t consider there was enough evidence to prove the case beyond an affordable doubt.

Because the SafeSport investigation unfolded in the course of the first months of 2019, McKenzie continued to coach at the middle with other coaches. She had persistent stomach ailments and panic attacks, she said, that hampered her respiratory when she tried to practice. On many days, she just desired to sleep. Her love for the sport never wavered, though.

She left the middle in 2020, when the pandemic forced the united statesT.A. to reduce. Since then, she has trained with coaches in South Carolina and Arizona. In the meanwhile, she is playing on her own and understanding several hours a day at a gym. Sometimes she goes for runs along with her mother. She has worked with a therapist and would love to again, but treatment may be expensive, so she is attempting to “plow through” on her own, she said.

She accomplished highschool in 2020, at age 21, and is considering attending college, possibly near home, and possibly reviving her profession through N.C.A.A. tennis but while gaining an education, a path several top women have taken, including Danielle Collins, who reached the Australian Open final in January, and Jennifer Brady, who did so in 2021 and used to hit with McKenzie on the united statesT.A.’s courts. As a junior, McKenzie beat Sofia Kenin, the 2020 Australian Open champion.

She often thinks of the united statesT.A. worker along with her own story about Aranda.

McKenzie, who’s soft-spoken and reserved, said she was motivated to talk out because she knows too well what can occur when women don’t.

“That probably just empowered him,” she said of the silence that followed the incident on the Latest York club. “He felt like he was permitted to act the best way he did.”

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