The Week (US)

Osaka: A tennis star’s struggle with anxiety

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“Congratula­tions, tennis,” said Jemele Hill in The Atlantic.com. “You just bullied one of the biggest stars in your sport” into quitting the French Open. Before the start of the tournament, Naomi Osaka announced on Instagram that she planned to skip its obligatory press conference­s, writing that aggressive questionin­g by reporters deepens the anxiety and depression she’s suffered since winning the 2018 U.S. Open in a high-pressure final against Serena Williams. French Open officials fined Osaka $15,000 for refusing to meet with the press; she then withdrew from the tournament. The decision by Osaka, 23, brought a mixture of criticism, sympathy, and surprise. No one realized that such a tough player on the court “might be in genuine emotional distress.”

“Osaka’s mental health is more important than any sound bite,” said Andrew Marchand in the New York Post. But the interviews sportswrit­ers conduct with athletes are not mere nuisances. We ask questions on behalf of fans, probing to reveal players’ thoughts and feelings and helping to make them three-dimensiona­l human beings. But today’s generation of athletes prefer to relate to the public in one-dimensiona­l tweets and

Instagram posts so they can manage their own images. Osaka, who made $55 million last year, evidently did not want to be asked about her history of poor performanc­es on clay courts like the French Open’s, said

Will Leitch in NYMag.com. That’s understand­able, especially now that we know she’s struggled with anxiety and self-doubt. Still, the Open officials were not wrong to suggest that allowing Osaka alone to skip press conference­s could give her an unfair advantage over other players. “It’s not something that Osaka just gets to decide, out of the blue, right before a tournament starts.”

Pro athletes do have “obligation­s to their sport and the public that enriches them,” said Barry Svrluga in The Washington Post. But Osaka is human, not “a cyborg,” and also has obligation­s to her “own well-being.” Pro tennis especially is “almost designed to foster mental health issues,” exposing young players to a grueling regimen of nearly year-round work, isolation, and incredible pressure to succeed. Witty and outspoken on social-justice issues, the multiracia­l Osaka may be “one of the most compelling figures in tennis.” Let’s hope that at some point she will feel ready to compete—and speak publicly—again.

 ??  ?? Is she obliged to do press conference­s?
Is she obliged to do press conference­s?

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