When Naomi Osaka won the 2018 US Open, she took off her mask to hide her tears.
It was her first Grand Slam title, she defeated the great Serena Williams to win it, and she had a bright future ahead of her.
The victory, however, came in an unusual and shocking fashion, with boos and controversy surrounding Williams’ infamous blast at governance.
We now know that the title also marked the beginning of the “long bouts of depression” that led to Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open in a move that shocked the sport and raised the prospect of a soul-searching. authorities and the media.
Roland Garros is now without one of the sport’s biggest stars, and despite Osaka’s desire not to “be a distraction,” she and the issues she raises are in the spotlight.
Did the authorities handle things well?
Osaka received a lot of support from fellow players and athletes due to her decision to boycott press conferences at Roland Garros.
She was criticized for a strongly worded statement by the sport’s governing bodies on Sunday, which threatened her with expulsion from the French Open and upcoming major tournaments over what she said was a decision based on a quest to protect her mental health.
NBA player Stephen Curry criticized the authorities, saying “the forces do not protect them”, while former British top seed Laura Robson also wondered if the matter could have been handled differently.
“I’m sure a lot of people were disappointed with the way yesterday’s statement from the Grand Slam was handled and how powerful it is,” Robson told BBC Radio 5 Live.
Maybe if they hadn’t let it escalate to this point we wouldn’t be here.”
In a statement after Osaka’s withdrawal, the president of the French Tennis Federation, Gilles Moreton, said major tennis bodies are committed to the well-being of athletes and improving their experience in the tournament, including their interaction with the media.
Osaka said that “the rules are outdated in some parts” and that she wanted to discuss with the tour ways to improve things.
Has Osaka herself handled things well?
Osaka’s May 27 announcement that she would not participate in the press conferences surprised many people.
Not least the tournament organizers who said her decision was “unacceptable” and the critics who called it “The Behavior of the Diva” She is gaining”An unfair advantageNot fulfilling its media obligations.
Former British footballer Naomi Cavaday told BBC Radio 5 Live that if Osaka had expressed its concerns with tournament organizers in a different way, they might have come up with a mutually acceptable solution.
“It’s shocking to hear that she has been struggling so much since becoming a Grand Slam champion. But in this game you can’t just define what you’re doing at the time and there’s no connection with companies and institutions, especially when you sign contracts to do things.”
“If the issue had been raised in a more professional and direct way rather than just taking it to social media and taking the decision out of their hands, I think there could have been discussions at least about how it could be easier.”
Osaka herself said her timing wasn’t perfect and her “message could have been clearer.”
Kavaday said there are “processes in place that if you’re struggling with your mental health, you can communicate that and try to come up with a short-term solution and then look a little bit longer.”
“But I also realize, as someone who struggled myself, how hard it was to start that conversation in the first place,” she added.
And what about the media?
BBC tennis correspondent Russell Fuller
It’s a sobering thought that Naomi Osaka has struggled with prolonged bouts of depression since winning her first major in New York at the age of 20.
It is also disturbing to admit that she would have likely still competed in the French Open had it not been for the mandatory media commitments that come with it.
Many of us will consider our choice of language now that we have more details, and the Grand Slam should also question their decision to turn the temperature up so dramatically by threatening Osaka with expulsion from the event.
It may have been done out of fairness with other players – and after a failed attempt to contact Osaka – but it was a situation that ultimately robbed the tournament of one of its biggest draws.
Many people were shocked by Osaka’s initial mail. That was unfair on the WTA Tour, which invests a lot of time preparing athletes for the many demands of professional sport, as well as on large portions of the media that are able to treat difficult interviews with sensitivity.
But it was written under duress, at a time when Osaka was feeling weak and anxious, and so she shouldn’t hold these words against her.
Media interaction with players must remain an integral part of the sport, but after this traumatic episode the hope must be to enhance the experience for all involved.
Will mental health be talked about more?
From bizarre press conferences with Pokemon references to disturbing acceptance speeches, Osaka has been the darling of both fans and media over the years.
The cute Japanese player previously described herself as “the most awkward” in tennis, but she has also become one of her strongest voices thanks to her vigor.
But the public didn’t know she was “having a hard time coping” with her bouts of depression.
Britain’s seven-year-old Katharina Johnson-Thompson said she hopes there will be more conversations now about depression in the sport.
“She is so brave to speak up and protect her safety,” she wrote. “Mental health, and especially in sport, is a very risky topic to be open about. Hopefully, the change will come after her withdrawal and open discussions about depression in sport to break down the stigma.”
Serena Williams was asked at her press conference Monday if she feels the WTA has done enough to help tennis players mental health off the court.
“I feel like there are a lot of articles and stuff they have published,” she said. “I think you really have to go ahead and put in the effort, just like in anything. You have to be able to put in an effort and say, ‘I need help with A, B, C, D, talk to someone.'”
“I think it’s very important to have a sound board, whether it’s someone in the WTA or if it’s someone in your life. It’s probably the person you just talk to on a weekly basis.”
Former world number one Billie Jean King tweeted her support:
When will Osaka return to the stadium?
Osaka did not put in her statement a time frame for her return, saying that she will be taking some time off the field now.
Robson thinks she may not be back in time for Wimbledon, which begins in four weeks.
“From her statement it is not clear when she plans to return,” she told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“I think it would be a quick turnaround for her to come back to Wimbledon and throw her in the deep end at a Grand Slam, especially Wimbledon.”