Grand Slam leaders pledge to address Naomi Osaka’s concerns
The leaders of the four Grand Slam tournaments reacted to the astonishing withdrawal of tennis star Naomi Osaka from Roland Garros on Tuesday by promising to address players’ concerns about mental health.
The pledge came in a statement signed by the same four tennis administrators who threatened the possibility of disqualification or suspension for Osaka on Sunday if it continued to skip press conferences.
The four-time major champion and No.2-ranked player was fined $ 15,000 for not speaking to reporters after her first-round victory at Roland Garros on Sunday. The next day, Osaka withdrew from the tournament entirely, saying she felt “huge waves of anxiety” before meeting the media and revealing that she had “suffered from long bouts of depression”.
Osaka, a 23-year-old girl who was born in Japan and moved with her family to the United States at the age of 3, said she “would be getting away from court a bit now, but when is the right moment? will come, I really want to work with. the tour to discuss ways to make things better for players, the press and fans. ”
Tennis players are required to attend press conferences upon request; Grand Slam rules allow fines of up to $ 20,000 if they don’t show up.
“On behalf of the Grand Slam, we want to offer Naomi Osaka our support and assistance in any way we can as she walks away from the court. She is an exceptional athlete and we look forward to her return as soon as she deems it appropriate, ”said the statement of the officials of the French Open, Wimbledon, US Open and Open on Tuesday. ‘Australia. “Mental health is a very difficult issue that deserves our greatest attention. It is both complex and personal, because what affects one individual does not necessarily affect another. We applaud Naomi for sharing in her own words the pressures and anxieties she feels and understand the unique pressures tennis players may face. “
French Tennis Federation President Gilles Moretton, All England Club President Ian Hewitt, US Tennis Association President Mike McNulty and Tennis Australia President Jayne Hrdlicka are committed to working with players, tours and the media “to improve the player experience at our tournaments” while ensuring that the athletes are all on “a level playing field, regardless of rank or status”.
In a separate statement released to the AP via email on Tuesday, Heather Bowler, head of the International Tennis Federation, “will consider what needs to evolve” after Osaka “sheds light on mental health issues.”
“It is in our best interest to ensure that we continue to provide a respectful and qualitative environment that allows all stakeholders to do their jobs to the best of their ability, without harming their health, and for the good of the sport,” Bowler wrote. .
Various tennis players, including sisters Serena and Venus Williams, offered their support in Osaka.
Venus Williams, a 40-year-old woman who won seven Grand Slam titles in singles and 14 more in doubles with her younger brother, told a press conference after her first round loss on Tuesday at Roland Garros that she found it “certainly not easy. to press, I think, for anyone.
When asked how she handled this during her professional career, Williams replied, “For me, personally, how I handle this is that I know that every person who asks me a question cannot. play as well as I can and never will, so no matter what you say or write you will never light me a candle. So that’s how I handle it. But each person handles it differently. ”
Others praised Osaka for opening up her personal story in her social media statement Monday.
“It’s hard. Nobody really knows what someone is going through, no matter how much they choose to show on the outside. I had no idea of her. But I respect her open-mindedness,” said American pro Ann Li, 20, said after her victory. “Our generation is more and more open and open, which can be a good thing and also sometimes a bad thing. I hope they are doing well.”
Gael Monfils, a 34-year-old Frenchman who also won on Tuesday, expressed a sentiment surely shared by many around tennis, from tournament and tour officials to athletes to sports fans.
“We need Naomi. We really need it to be 100%, ”said Monfils. “We need her to be back on the pitch, back (to) the press conference – and back happy.”
AP Sports writer Sam Petrequin in Paris contributed to this report.
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