The organizers of tennis’ four Grand Slam tournaments took a very different tone in its second joint statement regarding Naomi Osaka and her departure from the ongoing French Open, this time seeking to a convey a level of empathy noticeably lacking from their first such effort.
Two days after issuing a blistering statement that threatened Osaka with potential suspension from future events for skipping media sessions – a move that drew widespread industry rebuke, helped lead Osaka to withdraw from the event at Roland Garros, and open up about extensive struggles with depression and anxiety – the tournament organizers on June 1 sought to strike a much more conciliatory note.
“Mental health is a very challenging issue, which deserves our utmost attention,” read a joint statement from the heads of the French Tennis Federation, Tennis Australia, United States Tennis Association, and All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC). “It is both complex, and personal, and as what affects one individual does not necessarily affect another.
“We commend Naomi Osaka for sharing in her own words the pressures and anxieties she is feeling and we empathize with the unique pressures tennis players may face. While players’ wellbeing has always been a priority to the Grand Slams, our intention, together with the WTA, the ATP, and the IFT, is to advance mental health and wellbeing through further actions,” the executives said.
With regard to the core issue of mandatory press sessions that Osaka raised, one she said particularly served as a source of personal anxiety, the tournament organizers said, “together as a community we will continue to improve the player experience at our tournaments, including as relates to media. Change should come through the lens of maintaining a fair playing field, regardless of ranking or status. Sport requires rules and regulations to ensure that no player has an unfair advantage over the other. We intend to work alongside the players, the tours, the media, and the broader tennis community to create meaningful improvements.”
It is not known, however, whether the Grand Slams will adjust their structure for monetary fines for players unable to attend mandatory press sessions due to mental health issues. Current Grand Slam rules allow for fines up to $20,000 (NGN 8.2m) for players skipping such sessions.
Osaka has not responded to the second statement from the Grand Slam organizers, and after her French Open withdrawal said she was going to “take some time away from the court now.” Meanwhile, she continues to receive widespread support from fellow tennis players, and athletes from other sports.
“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,” said Venus Williams, who has seven Grand Slam singles titles and 14 more in doubles with her sister, Serena. “So no matter what you say or what you write, you’ll never light a candle to me. So that’s how I deal with it. But each person deals with it differently.”
The 23-year-old Osaka, who was born in Japan but spent much of her childhood in the United States, is the world’s second-ranked female tennis player.