'Career in danger': Fears for Naomi Osaka after French Open withdrawal

·4-min read
Pictured here, Naomi Osaka at the 2021 French Open.
Naomi Osaka's French Open withdrawal stunned the tennis world this week. Pic: Getty

Tennis great Boris Becker admits Naomi Osaka's heartbreaking mental health admission leaves him worried about the Japanese superstar's career.

The 23-year-old Osaka made global headlines this week after withdrawing from the French Open, following backlash over her refusal to take part in post-match media conferences.

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In a statement, the Japanese player said she had made the decision to withdraw in order to avoid the stand-off becoming a distraction, adding that she has suffered from bouts of depression since winning the 2018 US Open.

The initial reasoning Osaka gave for boycotting the media was that the nature of questions she often received was damaging to her mental wellbeing.

Following her exit from the tournament, the four-time major champion revealed that she has been battling mental health issues for a number of years.

"The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that."

"Though the tennis press has always been kind to me," she wrote, "I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world's media."

Speaking on Eurosport where he works as a tennis pundit, six-time major champion Becker says Osaka's revelation is particularly worrying as dealing with the press is part of the life of an elite athlete.

"She couldn't cope with the pressures of facing the media after she loses a match, but that happens frequently and you have to deal with it," Becker said.

"If she can't cope with the media in Paris, she can't cope with the media in Wimbledon or the US Open. So I almost feel like her career is in danger due to mental health issues."

Boris Becker is pictured here speaking at a press conference.
Boris Becker says he's worried about what Noami Osaka's mental health admission means for her career. Pic: Getty

The world No.2 has said she will take some time away from tennis but hoped to work with the sport's authorities to create a better environment.

In her statement she referred to the rules regarding players' media responsibilities as "outdated in parts".

Becker himself said he found the constant media press conferences tiresome during his playing career.

Tennis greats concerned for Osaka's future

"I always believed the media was part of the job. Without the media, there is no prize money, no contracts, you don't get half the cake," he said.

"I hated the media and I didn't like talking to journalists, but you had to do it.

"Now she is pulling out of the tournament altogether because she can't cope with it and that raises much bigger questions for me."

Fellow tennis great Pam Shriver - a 22-time grand slam doubles winner and ESPN commentator - slammed tennis' four grand slam governing bodies over their hardline stance that precipitated Osaka's French Open withdrawal.

Osaka was threatened with heavy fines and even expulsion from future grand slams if she continued her boycott, with Shriver arguing it showed little concern for the player's welfare.

Seen here, tennis great Pam Shriver watches a tennis match from the stands.
Tennis great Pam Shriver was highly critical of the response to Naomi Osaka's concerns. Pic: Getty

"They needed to be more compassionate and supportive in the situation and deal with it behind the scenes," Shriver told The NY Post in a phone interview. 

“They’ll never say it, but I’m sure they’d like to have it back. They lost one of the superstars of the game.

"Part of the statement was appropriate but I thought bringing in fines and code of conduct and possibility of default was wrong. Until you know all the facts about someone’s health, I didn’t like it."

"I was thinking Osaka played well with everything going on. I thought maybe she realised she could find a way to go back holding press conferences and return to the more normal major routine to de-escalate the situation. I was wrong. She chose to de-escalate by doing the best thing for her. I don’t see how she could’ve competed the rest of the way because the situation was getting out of hand."

With Osaka revealing that she would take time away from the sport to deal with her mental health, there are serious doubts about whether the World No.2 will feature at Wimbledon, which gets underway in just under four weeks.

“I think Wimbledon is very much in doubt," Shriver added.

with agencies

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