Naomi Osaka is undoubtedly one of the finest tennis potentials on the WTA Tour and her trophies do justify her talent. The 23-year old Japanese superstar has already won 4-Grand Slam out of the 7 titles she has won so far in her career. The current World No. 2 achieved the World No. 1 ranking when she won the 2018 US Open and followed it up with the 2019 Australian Open that saw her reach the top.
Osaka was involved in a huge controversy during the recently concluded 2021 French Open. Osaka prior to the commencement of the tournament had declared that she won’t be taking part in any sort of press conference during her stay at the Roland Garros in order to protect her mental well-being as she didn’t find herself in the right frame of mind to appear in front of the media.
Osaka received a great deal of criticism from the media and many of the former and current players saying that media appearances have never affected their mental well-being. Osaka however was firm on her decision and did not appear for the press conference after her 1st round victory and was ready to accept whatever fine she was charged with.
“Life is a journey. In the past few weeks, my journey took an unexpected path but one that has taught me so much and helped me grow. I learned a couple of key lessons. Lesson one: you can never please everyone. The world is as divided now as I can remember in my short 23 years.
“Issues that are so obvious to me at face value, like wearing a mask in a pandemic or kneeling to show support for anti-racism, are ferociously contested. I mean, wow. So, when I said I needed to miss French Open press conferences to take care of myself mentally, I should have been prepared for what unfolded,” wrote Osaka in a recently released article by the Japanese star.
Naomi Osaka explains her actions
Osaka despite agreeing to pay the fine was still met with criticism and explanation which eventually saw her pulling out of the Grand Slam before her 2nd round match and publicly declared about her bouts with depression she’s having since her victory at the 2018 US Open as she gets uncomfortable when she gets high attention as she is often described as an introvert person.
“Lesson two was perhaps more enriching. It has become apparent to me that literally everyone either suffers from issues related to their mental health or knows someone who does. The number of messages I received from such a vast cross-section of people confirms that. I think we can almost universally agree that each of us is a human being and subject to feelings and emotions.
“This was never about the press, but rather the traditional format of the press conference. I’ll say it again for those at the back: I love the press; I do not love all press conferences. I have always enjoyed an amazing relationship with the media and have given numerous in-depth, one-on-one interviews.
“Other than those super-stars who have been around much longer than I (Novak, Roger, Rafa, Serena), I’d estimate that I’ve given more time to the press than many other players over recent years. I always try to answer genuinely and from the heart. I’ve never been media-trained, so what you see is what you get. The way I see it, the reliance and respect from athlete to press is reciprocal.
“However, in my opinion (and I want to say that this is just my opinion and not that of every tennis player on tour), the press-conference format itself is out of date and in great need of a refresh. I believe that we can make it better, more interesting and more enjoyable for each side. Less subject vs. object; more peer to peer.
“Upon reflection, it appears to me that the majority of tennis writers do not agree. For most of them, the traditional press conference is sacred and not to be questioned. The intention was never to inspire revolt, but rather to look critically at our workplace and ask if we can do better,” wrote Naomi.
Naomi Osaka thanks everyone who supported her
While a great section was divided questioning the actions of the 23-year old, many more supported her decision to speaking about the mental health issues that athletes or in general people face, but it’s not considered as serious or grievous as any other physical injury.
“Perhaps we should give athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions. In any other line of work, you would be forgiven for taking a personal day here and there, so long as it’s not habitual.
“You wouldn’t have to divulge your most personal symptoms to your employer; there would likely be HR measures protecting at least some level of privacy. In my case, I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms—frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me.
“I do not wish that on anyone and hope that we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones. I also do not want to have to engage in scrutiny of my personal medical history ever again. So I ask the press for some level of privacy and empathy next time we meet.
“I want to thank everyone who supported me. There are too many to name, but I want to start with my family and friends, who have been amazing. There is nothing more important than those relationships. Michelle Obama, Michael Phelps, Steph Curry, Novak Djokovic, Meghan Markle, to name a few. Furthermore, I am eternally grateful to all my partners.
“Although I am not surprised as I purposefully chose brand partners that are liberal, empathetic and progressive, I am still tremendously thankful. Michael Phelps told me that by speaking up I may have saved a life. If that’s true, then it was all worth it,” added Naomi in a long-heartful essay to explain her actions and hope that something of this sort never happens.
Naomi Osaka will next be seen at the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics where she will be playing in her homeland and her preferred surface of Hardcourts which certainly has set people’s expectations from her to win an Olympic medal in her country.