Tennis stars walk-back their criticism of Naomi Osaka amid mental health controversy: Now Billie Jean King says she needs ‘space’ and Chris Evert says press conferences need to be ‘more comfortable’ for young players who can’t handle tough questions

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  • Celebrities, athletes and liberal politicians are lining up to praise Osaka, 23 
  • Some like Billie Jean King are reversing earlier comments that were harsher
  • Chris Evert – who was only 20 when she won her first French Open –  suggested the media should be checked more thoroughly
  • She said: ‘These athletes are teenagers and in their early 20s. They cant cope with what a 45 year old golfer can’  
  • Osaka withdrew from the French Open on Monday after being fined $15,000 for not taking questions 
  • She initially said she didn’t want to speak to press because they ‘doubt her’ 
  • Then her sister said it was because journalists remind her that her record on clay isn’t as strong 
  • Osaka released another statement on Monday saying she’s suffered ’bouts of depression for years’ 
  • The French Open organizers said they wished her well and would welcome her back next year
  • The Women’s Tennis Association has invited her to talk about how to improve the situation for athletes going forward 

Tennis stars are reversing their criticism of Naomi Osaka, who pulled out of the French Open on Monday saying she suffers ’bouts of depression’, after initially telling her it’s part of the job to speak to the press, no matter how hard she may find it.  

Osaka, 23, announced last week that she would not be taking media questions at Roland-Garros because she thinks journalists ‘doubt’ her and she didn’t want to subject herself to their tough questions. 

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She was fined $15,000 and threatened with expulsion from the remaining Grand Slams, as well as being accused of trying to have her cake and eat it too. 

Osaka was the highest paid female athlete in history in 2019, earning $37.4million. 

Veteran players spoke out afterwards to say while they sympathized with anyone suffering mental health problems, speaking to the press was part of the job and without journalists, no one would know who they are.   

Osaka then withdrew from the tournament and said she has been suffering ’bouts of depression’ for years. She apologized to journalists she might have been offended but said she needs ‘time away from the court’.  

Greats like Billie Jean King – who earlier disagreed with Osaka’s decision – changed their tune to offer her sympathy. Chris Evert suggested changes to the media to protect young stars who can’t seem to handle tough questions.

Others like 18-time Grand-Slam winner Martina Navratilova – who told Osaka to ‘woman up’ last week – deleted tweets and replaced them with more sympathetic words.  

King, 77, tweeted: ‘It’s incredibly brave that Naomi Osaka has revealed her truth about her struggle with depression. Right now, the important thing is that we give her the space and time she needs. We wish her well.’ 

Hours earlier, she’d posted a different statement that said in part: ‘I have always believed that as professional athletes we have a responsibility to make ourselves available to the media… the media still play an important role in telling our story.’

Evert went on Good Morning America Tuesday and said that while in her day she didn’t mind taking tough questions, young athletes these days don’t seem able to handle it. 

She said the press is ‘crucial’ to the sport and has helped Osaka’s brand but that press conferences need to be updated to make it more comfortable for the stars.  

She suggested putting checks on the media by restricting press conferences to 15 minutes, banning ‘tabloid’ press and bloggers whose questions aren’t to athletes’ liking and even adding a ‘moderator’ to ‘field questions.’  These athletes are teenagers and in their early 20s. They cant cope with what a 45 year old golfer can. The press needs to have compassion with what they ask

‘There are so many layers to this issue that it would take an hour to talk about. 

‘Most importantly, I hope that Naomi is OK. It’s interesting because I really respect Naomi for being a spokesperson and she has been the darling of the media, that’s what makes this interesting.

‘The media have really helped her brand. 

‘On the one side, I have so much sympathy for her but on the other side of the coin is that the press are very instrumental in the growth of the game It’s crucial to tennis, it brings stories to the fans, dissects matches.

‘These press conferences are a responsibility. 

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