Last month, Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open due to her mental health. She originally announced on Twitter that she will be skipping the mandatory post-match press conferences because she feared that it will affect her mental health. In response to her announcement, the WTA, and the ITF (French Tennis Federation) said they will fine her for any press conferences that she will not be attending moving forward.
Osaka responded in a lengthy Twitter response saying that she will be pulling out of the French Open due to her mental health AND added she will not be competing in Wimbledon as well. It was never her intention for her personal issues to be a distraction for the rest of the players in the tournament. The ITF President, Gilles Moretton, responded that he was sorry and sad that she withdrew from the tournament and that her decision to not talk to the media was a phenomenal error. He read this statement both in English and French and decided NOT to talk to the media when he was done. Yet there was no hypocrisy in his decision to not speak to the media, I’m sure.
I sat on this issue for over a month for a few reasons. Immediately I knew what went wrong, but I wanted to see if it will be corrected. Osaka should’ve never announced her intentions on Twitter. Twitter should have been her last resort. Now I am only assuming that she didn’t talk to the WTA or the ITF beforehand to address her issue. Osaka being Women’s Tennis biggest draw, there could’ve been some accommodation or compromise to be made.
Officially, Naomi Osaka will not be competing in Wimbledon. There is no official dialogue to report on between Osaka and the WTA. I can only speculate that she withdrew from these two tournaments because they take place on European soil. Being a football fan and an avid supporter of the English Premier League, I have seen how the European press can be brutal through Managers ‘reactions after a match.
This situation stuck with me because it was shocking to me to see that Women’s Tennis is late to the party. While we see the efforts by other major sports to address mental health, Women’s Tennis has decided that the game is still bigger than the player. The NBA has limited its back-to back regular season matchups, the NFL has watered down its hard hits to combat concussions which ultimate lead to mental health trauma. MLB has become less tolerant of pitchers hitting players at the plate and catchers blocking the plate so runners can’t score and limiting those horrific collisions.
My hope is that this French Open fiasco starts of the negotiations of how the mental health crisis is affecting the sport of Tennis. Consider this, Serena Williams is 39 years old, and she was still competing for a championship as recently as 2019. Most female tennis players stop playing their best tennis by the age of 28. Yet there has only been a handful to still play their best tennis pass this age. At some point the WTA needs to see that this is a real issue. While other Women’s sports are seeing lengthy careers, Women’s Tennis is only getting younger and younger. If the WTA can make serious efforts to address Mental Health, then the sport can have a grocery list of household names.