- Naomi Osaka has pulled out of the French Open in the wake of her media boycott
- The 23-year-old revealed she has been suffering from depression and social anxiety ever since winning her first Grand Slam at the US Open in 2018
- Boris Becker now worries about Osaka’s future in the sport as a result
- Osaka’s participation at Wimbledon and her home Olympics is also now in doubt
- Martina Navratilova deletes tweet saying that Osaka ‘tried to make a situation better for herself and others’ with French Open media boycott
- Watch the French Open live on Eurosport and Eurosport app
Fears that tennis may end up losing one of its brightest stars were voiced on Tuesday as the game struggled to contain the fallout from Naomi Osaka’s French Open withdrawal.
Grand Slam legend Boris Becker was among those expressing concern as compulsory press conferences, which sparked the whole issue, took a surreal turn at Roland Garros.
Double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova announced that she is joining the world No 2 by withdrawing after injuring her ankle in the course of media duties. Unlucky Kvitova was walking out of a TV studio when she slipped on a step and badly turned an ankle. She hopes to recover in time for the upcoming grasscourt tournaments.
‘She couldn’t cope with the pressures of facing the media, especially after losing a match,’ he said. ‘And you don’t get half the cake. I hated the media, I didn’t like to speak to journalists, but I had to do it.
‘She has cited that she is pulling out of the tournament altogether because she can’t cope with it. That raises much bigger questions for me because if she can’t cope with the media in Paris, she can’t cope with the media at Wimbledon, she can’t cope with the media at the US Open. I almost feel like her career is in danger because of mental health issues — and we should take that very seriously.’
The 23-year-old Osaka, who represents Japan, remains on the entry list for Wimbledon and the grasscourt tournament which precedes it in Berlin.
Wimbledon was among the signatories of all four Grand Slams that on Sunday issued an uncompromising statement saying Osaka (right) must fulfil media obligations or face being barred from the tournament. There has been some retrospective criticism of the majors for taking that position, although at the time they were unaware of the full extent of her troubles.
Only on Monday did she reveal she has suffered ‘long bouts of depression’ since winning the US Open in 2018.
With the French Open and Wimbledon having a reduced two-week gap between them this year, it must be considered highly unlikely that she will want to be the subject of so much attention during the abbreviated grasscourt season.
Last night, Wimbledon issued another, more emollient missive on behalf of the four Grand Slams and in light of Osaka’s further disclosures.
‘We wish to offer Naomi Osaka our support and assistance in any way possible as she takes time away from the court,’ it read. ‘She is an exceptional athlete and we look forward to her return as soon as she deems appropriate.
‘Mental health is a very challenging issue, which deserves our utmost attention. We commend Naomi for sharing in her own words the pressures and anxieties she is feeling and we empathise with the unique pressures tennis players may face.’
The problem for these tournaments is that it is very difficult to make exceptions in an area like media commitments which competitors, who all operate in a high-stress environment, consider a chore.
Anyone who has dealt with tennis players knows they are usually prepared to fulfil obligations but are always sensitive to the idea of their rivals getting special treatment.
Already there are informal discussions going on in the sport about the future of media duties. One outcome may be a greater use of briefer encounters in mixed zones, coupled with set-piece press conferences, as is commonplace in golf.
With the three-day first round concluding in Paris, players continued to turn up for their press conferences.
Women’s fifth seed Elina Svitolina was asked for her view but gave a fairly perfunctory reply.
‘Honestly I think it is what it is,’ said the Ukrainian. ‘She made her decision and I wish her a speedy recovery because it seems like it really damaged her mentally.’