Naomi Osaka has come under increasing pressure over her move to boycott the press at the French Open, with several prominent commentators questioning her reasoning.
The 23-year-old announced last week that she would not be fulfilling media obligations throughout the Roland Garros tournament, citing mental health concerns and a perceived lack of regard for the mental health of athletes.
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Her stance earned a mix reaction, with some current and former players agreeing with her stance, with others less impressed.
The likes of Ash Barty, Rafael Nadal and Iga Swiatek all showed some degree of understanding with Osaka's arguments, but all maintained dealing with the press was simply part of the job.
Osaka's argument was complicated after her sister Mari made, and later deleted, a post on Reddit where she sought to shed more light on the decision.
Mari Osaka, herself a former tennis pro, compromised the argument somewhat by suggesting part of the reasoning for the boycott was so Naomi could 'block out' pressure and more easily overcome voices 'going to put doubt in her mind'.
“She’s protecting her mind hence why it’s called mental health,” Mari said.
The argument raised the eyebrow of veteran tennis reported Ben Rothenberg, who hosted a lengthy discussion of the issue on his podcast, No Challenges Remaining.
Rothenberg said Mari's statement showed part of Osaka's reasoning was to insulate herself from criticism of her game.
"The crux of this complaint is very much results orientated," he said.
"It’s really talking about the tennis side of the equation and having to come and talk about a loss … that is what she finds so galling."
Rothenberg went on to say the announcement had made him believe Osaka was low on confidence heading into the French Open - a reasonable assumption given her prior struggles on clay courts.
Crucially though, Rothenberg was not convinced by the idea Osaka was only doing it for the sake of her own, and others' mental health.
“To me that just does not ring genuine about what Naomi Osaka’s press conference experience has been,” he said.
“Her chosen career of being an elite, grand slam champion level athlete is going to be high pressure and it’s going to be tough … you have to embrace both sides of that as part of the gig. It’s just part of the gig.
“I don’t totally think that’s what’s really going on here.
"If you’re in this position where you’re taking losses so badly that a couple of questions about having lost are really going to set you off in some harmful way, then why are you taking the court at a grand slam and putting yourself on the line in that sort of arena, in that battlefield, if you really are feeling that vulnerable or that fragile or that unwell?"
Naomi Osaka facing increasing scrutiny over media boycott
Rothenberg wasn't the only prominent tennis reported to question the legitimacy of Osaka's claims of undue pressure from the media.
Co-host Matt Roberts said it seemed like Osaka was enduring a more personal struggle.
“It felt to me this was coming from a deeply personal place and it seemed not a coincidence now that she released this statement on the heels of some poor form, going into Roland Garros where she is struggling a bit on the clay, she is fielding more questions about her performance than at other times in her career," he said.
“That to me seems like problems top athletes go through and I don’t think not going to press is the solution there.”
Tennis broadcaster and host of The Tennis Podcast Catherine Whitaker said she was frustrated by Osaka's 'sweeping' statement about the media's attitude towards mental health.
While she acknowledged the media approach to mental health was far from perfect, Whitaker said it was unfair to tar everyone with the same brush.
“The statement that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health … that simply isn’t true,” she said.
“Obviously some members of a press conference room have more regard than others but as a whole, as a sweeping generalisation, it is simply not true to say the press do not have regard for an athlete’s mental health.
“It is simply not true to sweepingly say there’s no regard for mental health.
“In that final paragraph (of Osaka’s statement) there’s another implication that the mental health of athletes is ignored. I resent that implication. It is simply not ignored.”
Osaka won her first round match against Patricia Maria Tig on Sunday, 6-4, 7-6.
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