"If Osaka needs time to heal, she should be supported and not questioned"— Rutuja Bhosale
The former World No.1 Naomi Osaka said in her statement that "people have no regard for athletes' mental health.
Naomi Osaka's journey at the 2021 Roland Garros kicked off by turning down press conferences before the tournament began, before she withdrew from the tournament itself. A lot transpired in between. Osaka cited mental health as the reason for her not attending the press. The former World No.1 said in her statement that "people have no regard for athletes' mental health." The four-time slam champion further added, "the whole situation is kicking a person down while they're down."
A cold war of words kicked off with questions being fired at both the slam organizers and Osaka. The Japanese won her first round match in straight sets and later missed her press conference as per her decision. She was fined $15,000. This isn't the first time a player has been fined for bypassing the media. Previously, veteran players like Novak Djokovic and Venus Williams have been fined up to $7500. In the Grand Slam rule book, it is specifically mentioned that players are to attend the press within 30 minutes of the conclusion of their match or else they can be fined up to $20,000.
The Grand Slam authorities could keep fining Osaka after every match. But the matter heated up when they let out a statement that Osaka could be subjected to being defaulted from the tournament if she did not complete her media obligations and keep on facing violations. This move simply justified Osaka's actions. Despite her mentioning that she is struggling with mental health, the authorities pinned her down with warnings of being defaulted. Hours later, another statement was issued, where the slam authorities offered their assistance to Osaka. Too late.
Naomi Osaka, globally the highest earning athlete of 2020-21, has been suffering from bouts of depression since 2018. The Laureus winner is known to be shy and introverted, which was reflected in her winner's speech at the 2018 Indian Wells. In the same year, at Charleston, she openly said she was sad and depressed. All this weighed down heavily upon her, when she won the 2018 US Open against Serena Williams. At the presentation ceremony, she was booed. Mari Osaka, her sister, who retired from professional tennis too soon, took to Reddit and revealed that Osaka was depressed after her participation at Rome this year. Apparently, one of the family members had emphasized to Naomi that she was bad on clay. Mari Osaka, realizing that exposing such family secrets out was certainly going to affect Naomi even more, deleted her post and replaced it with an apology. Too late.
The off-court drama was intense at 2021 Roland Garros till this stage. Osaka decided to hush it all by withdrawing from the event. She also said that she will be off the tour for an indefinite period. The Olympics are around the corner and Osaka is one of the high-profile athletes representing the host nation. She has kept herself first, respected her mental health. Somewhere, she is sending a message out loud for those who are suffering from anxiety and depression - prioritize yourself. At the age of 23, Osaka has achieved way more than what people normally do at that age. Yet, she is in the hunt for satisfying her Ikigai.
The Bridge got in touch with Rutuja Bhosale, India's No.3 women's singles player and a part of India's Billie Jean King Cup squad. Rutuja shared her views on the subject of Naomi Osaka and the media.
What are your views on Naomi Osaka's withdrawal from the French Open?
1) Every player should have the right to stand up for themselves when they need help or time away to get better...I feel if she needs time to heal and get back she should be supported and not questioned!
Have you ever felt anxious/depressed following questions raised against you about your tennis career? If yes, how have you handled it?
2) After I came back from college tennis I was anxious about my tennis. But my parents are the ones who have always supported me when questions were asked and it is something that has helped me. Time off with family, doing things to get positive. They really helped me in believing that I could start my professional journey again.
Do you think there are areas where Indian media should improve or take notice of following the Osaka-Media debate?
3) Well, every Indian athlete is trying their best to be the best on the WTA/ ATP tour and it is not easy in a country where tennis is not that big. The process is tough. So positive media can affect how players look at themselves after wins and losses.
Players react to the Osaka vs Press battle
Rafael Nadal: I understand it, but on the other hand I believe that without the press, without the people who usually travel, writing the news and the results we get around the world, probably wouldn't be the athletes we are today.
Ash Barty: We know what we sign up for as professional tennis players, and I can't really comment on what Naomi's feeling or on her decisions she makes.
Iga Swiatek: I feel that the media are also very important because they give a platform to talk about our lives from our perspective. It is important because not everyone is a professional athlete and not everyone knows what we are dealing with. It is good to talk about it.
Serena Williams: I'm thick, some people are thin. Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently.
Venus Williams: For me personally how I deal with it was that I know every single person asking me a question can't play as well as I can and never will. So no matter what you say or what you write, you'll never light a candle to me.