Serena, tennis stars fooled by fake news

Serena Williams in her comeback match this month.
Serena Williams in her comeback match this month.

FAKE news, 15-love.

Darko Grncarov, a 20-year-old Macedonian who earned the praise of tennis stars like Serena Williams, Martina Navratilova and James Blake - and has been the feature of multiple mainstream media stories for his inspiring desire to return to the court after a six-month coma and his progressive social stances - has been outed as a fraud, in a piece on Slate, which reveals how Grncarov fooled so many and fabricated nearly his entire tale.

Grncarov is a real person, who at the very least briefly played competitive tennis, and started gaining attention on social media when he said he would have refused to play at Margaret Court Arena at the Australian Open because of the namesake's homophobic and transphobic remarks, and called American Tennys Sandgren an "idiot" for his promotion of dangerous, and debunked, alt-right myths.

Williams followed him on Twitter - Grncarov had praised the Williams sisters on social media - and sent him a direct message, telling him how inspiring his story was, and what an "honour" it would be for her and her daughter, Alexis Olympia, to meet him.

Navratilova was impressed with Grncarov's social stance, and retweeted a story about him, telling him good luck. Blake said he wanted to announce his future matches.

Only one match result of Grncarov is verifiable - a junior event, 6-0, 6-0, first-round qualifying loss to Nikola Vukotic at the 2015 Podgorica Open - but the teenager began touting wins from matches that never happened. He appeared on a TV show in Strumica, Macedonia, and passed along his invented success to outlets, which posted stories about him, until a local reporter fact-checked the claims.

"When I checked it out it was crap," reporter Aleksandar Bojadziski told Slate. "I ordered my employees to never post him again, ever."

Grncarov built a loyal following on Twitter - likely an army of trolls, helping his account become verified - eventually roping in the official accounts of the ATP and ITF. His popularity ballooned when he tweeted in July that he suffered a stroke, went into a coma and had recently woken, and was hoping to play in ATP events in 2018.

Martina Navratilova was duped too. AFP PHOTO / NOAH SEELAM
Martina Navratilova was duped too. AFP PHOTO / NOAH SEELAM

Grncarov didn't need the local press anymore. A French tennis outlet wrote a profile, as did Metro, of the United Kingdom, which wrote a since-deleted report that Grncarov served up to 222km/h. In multiple pieces, Grncarov was listed as Viktor Troicki's doubles partner, but when the former No. 12 player was reached by Slate two weeks ago, Troicki said he didn't know him.

"Great stories, wow," Troicki said. "I never heard of the guy."

The stories kept coming, from outlets more concerned with clicks than confirming the accuracy of what was being posted, while Grncarov shared videos of himself playing tennis, which never showed his face, and sometimes switched between the player being right-handed and left-handed.

The truth was more difficult to decipher, though, when Grncarov tweeted that Adidas had offered him a sponsorship and the company wrote back, "Welcome to the family, Darko." And on Jan. 15, he sat down for a lengthy interview with BBC, which promoted his seemingly incredible tale.

But after Grncarov's interview with Slate - which he insisted not be done via video or phone - in which the outlet highlighted many of the inconsistencies and unverified anecdotes, he deactivated his account.

If Grncarov could come back from this, it would be more impressive than fiction.



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