In 2019, when she had already won two of the big four that she owns and her media projection had already taken on a considerable dimension, Naomi Osaka (23 years old) expressed herself as follows when asked during a meeting with this newspaper in Madrid about his shyness and his relationship with the media: “Interviews are not difficult for me, because normally it involves someone asking me a question, instead of just talking. I never feel uncomfortable with the press ”.
That is, since then, life has taken many turns.
On Monday, the Japanese announced that she was leaving Roland Garros after receiving a financial punishment of 15,000 dollars (12,300 euros) for having refused to offer the usual press conference after her victory in the first round. Before, on the 26th, he had anticipated that in Paris he would not talk with journalists – violating the circuit regulations, which in his condition as number two in the world forces him to appear by contract – because “people have no regard for mental health athletes ”, claiming that she received repetitive questions and others that made her doubt herself.
A formidable tennis player, Osaka has been choking on clay since the beginning of his career, as happened to Pete Sampras and other figures in his day. The American retired with 14 greats in the showcases, but none of them arrived on the clay of Roland Garros. Trapped in the sand, the Japanese – with 34.2 million euros, the female athlete with the historical record of annual income – decided to isolate herself on the tour this season. “Osaka? It won’t do anything. And nothing is nothing, “they warned from the Madrid Masters communication department a month ago, in response to requests for interviews. The same thing would happen later in Rome. And he upped the ante in Paris.
First, silence; and then abandonment. “I do not want to be a distraction,” he stated in a last statement, recalling that since he won the US Open for the first time in 2018, he has dragged “long problems of depression” and that he will remain away from the tracks for a while. His departure was a bombshell and has regenerated the debate that surrounds the fine line between the emotional protection of athletes and their responsibilities with the media that project them socially and economically. According to some, Osaka failed in the forms for not managing the situation privately and for not reconsidering its position after the French Federation (FFT) and the WTA tried to reach an agreement with it; According to others, his episode highlights the psychological vulnerability produced by public exposure and the poor treatment of the system on many occasions.
“I am very proud of you,” endorsed Venus Williams. “We are with you,” Sloane Stephens continued. “As athletes we are taught to take care of our body, but perhaps the mental and emotional aspect falls short. This goes beyond holding or not holding a press conference ”, added Martina Navratilova, winner of 18 greats and a good connoisseur of the frenetic pace of her sport, in which tennis players compete practically all year round and must talk with journalists a large number of weeks. Without going any further, Rafael Nadal, for example, can offer 100 press conferences in the same year, without counting other promotional events or individual interviews.
From Curry to Bolt
“You should never have to make a decision like this, but it is impressive to take the right path when the powers are not protecting yours. My greatest respects for Osaka ”, transmitted the basketball player Stephen Curry, in a similar vein to that of other American athletes such as Coco Gauff -“ stay strong, I admire your vulnerability ”- or Billie Jean King -” it is really brave that he revealed his fight against depression “-, and others such as the former sprinter Usain Bolt – he responded to the tennis player’s announcement with three supportive emoticons – or even the Democratic senator from New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:” Proud of you. ” In contrast, the vast majority of the players who were expressing themselves on the case before the abandonment censured the attitude of the Japanese, which they demanded responsibility.
Now the question remains of knowing when Osaka will return to the forefront, taking into account that there are only 51 days to go before the start of the Tokyo Games, to which she has already spoken: “If the health of the population, then it must be debated. A lot of outsiders are going to enter Japan, so I’m not entirely sure they should be held. “