The grand slams have pledged to work to improve the player experience at major tournaments following Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open.
A strong joint statement from the slams on Sunday threatening the world number two with disqualification and a ban from future tournaments if she did not reverse her decision not to honor her media obligations, fanned the flames of what was already a became an important topic of conversation.
Osaka announced her withdrawal on Monday, revealing her struggles with depression, and another statement from the slams on Tuesday took a very different tone.
The Grand Slams have vowed to ‘improve the player experience’ at major tennis tournaments
“On behalf of the grand slams, we would like to offer our support and assistance in every way to Naomi Osaka as she takes the time not to go to court,” the statement read. “She is an exceptional athlete and we look forward to her return as soon as she sees fit.
“Mental health is a very challenging subject that deserves our utmost attention. It is both complex and personal, because what affects one person does not necessarily affect another.
“We commend Naomi for sharing in her own words the pressures and fears she feels and empathize with the unique pressures tennis players can face.
“While the well-being of players has always been a priority at the grand slams, our intention, together with the WTA, the ATP and the ITF, is to promote mental health and well-being through further action.”
World No. 2 Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open, citing her mental health issues
However, the slams again emphasized the need to maintain fairness through regulation.
“Together, as a community, we will continue to improve the player experience at our tournaments, including media wise,” the statement said.
“Change must come through the lens of maintaining a level playing field, regardless of rank or status. Sports require rules and regulations to ensure that no player has an unfair advantage over another.
“We plan to work with the players, the tours, the media and the wider tennis community to create meaningful improvements. As grand slams, we want to create the stage for the players to achieve the highest accolades in our sport.”
While reaction to Osaka’s first statement has been decidedly mixed, the second has sparked widespread support from inside and outside tennis.
In a joint statement, the Grand Slams said they would look into the ‘mental health’ of stars
Boris Becker is concerned that the 23-year-old’s mental health issues could jeopardize her career, saying on Eurosport: “She has said she is pulling out of the tournament altogether because she can’t handle it.
“That raises much bigger questions for me because if she can’t handle the media in Paris, she can’t handle the media at Wimbledon, she can’t handle the media at the US Open.
“I almost feel like her career is in jeopardy because of mental health issues and we have to take that very seriously.”
Martina Navratilova said on the Tennis Channel: “This is clearly about more than giving a press conference after the game or not giving a press conference after the game.
After her statement on Monday, Osaka received support from Martina Navratilova, among others
Tennis legend Boris Becker fears Osaka’s mental health issues could affect her career
“Once she says the word depression, which is only for her to tell the world about, everything changes. Now it’s about taking care of herself and hopefully finding a solution.
‘It’s such a difficult situation. We have never experienced this. Maybe some people overreacted with what the fines were and all these things, but the rules are there for a reason because people would find an excuse. Hers is not an excuse, this is a real reason.’
About what she hopes will happen now, Navratilova added: “Just support her and appreciate the strength it took to say that, because now the whole world knows about it. People say, ‘Oh it’s easy for you, you’re famous and rich’. No. The whole world knows your struggles and that doesn’t make it any easier.’
Four-time Olympic gold medalist Sir Mo Farah also expressed support for Osaka on Tuesday.
The Grand Slams also praised Osaka for opening up her mental health issues
The long-distance runner told Jeremy Vine’s show on Channel 5: “It’s our duty to talk to journalists and talk to the camera because that’s what we have to do as athletes, but sometimes it’s hard.
“If someone is not in the right frame of mind or going through psychological (problems) and is in a difficult position, it is so much more difficult.
“I think we can only support and encourage her at this point.”
Frenchman Gael Monfils collapsed during his press conference at the Australian Open in February, telling journalists: ‘I feel judged. I’m already on the ground, you shoot me.’
There were emotions of a very different kind when he took a first round victory over Albert Ramos-Vinolas in Paris, but he felt for Osaka.
“It’s a very difficult situation for her,” he said. “I feel for her, because I struggled a lot too.
“She’s a champion, she’s quite young, she has a huge influence on a lot of (things). So I think, as she says, she needs some time to work on herself, to feel better.”