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Soderling says free of anxiety after nine-year struggle


(Reuters) - Former world tennis number four Robin Soderling says he has come through a nine-year battle with anxiety and panic attacks and has called for athletes' mental health to be given more focus.

Soderling, twice a runner-up at the French Open, was struck down by glandular fever after winning the Swedish Open in Bastad in July 2011 and did not play again, retiring four years later.

The Swede said he was also battling mental health issues since 2011 and had finally overcome them this year.

"I am happy and lucky to have come out on the other side now ... Like myself, most professional athletes are high-achieving perfectionists, dedicating their lives to their sport," the 35-year-old wrote on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/CCWV9XBDDGn.

"Being an athlete can be incredibly challenging for your mental health, and for me, my own strive for perfection, as well as the constant pressure I was putting on myself was in the end almost killing me.

"... Putting pressure on yourself and working very hard can be very rewarding. But if you cross that thin line - if you don't listen to your body and give it time to recharge and recover, it can ruin your career, and your life."

Soderling said that it was time to address the issue among professional athletes.

"Data shows that up to one in three elite athletes suffer from mental health issues which can manifest as stress, eating disorders, burnout, depression and anxiety," he wrote.

"We need to start discussing it and make sure that the next generation of athletes will come better prepared than myself."

The men's tour has joined up with Sporting Chance and Headspace to help players and staff deal with mental health problems and look after their well-being during the COVID-19 shutdown.

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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