Stunning trip and a sad day for tennis

Naomi Osaka bids farewell to Sunday’s French Open meeting. (Pete Keyhardt for The New York Times)

Naomi Osaka withdraws from French Open It was not a result anyone in the tennis world wanted, yet it happened.

It could have been avoided with better communication and better results, but the most important young star of Monday night’s game realized he had no better way than to withdraw from this year’s second Grand Slam.

Her second round match with Ana Bogton will be more of a trip to Bogton than another chance for the 23-year-old Osaka to advance on the red clay, which will affect her for a long time to come.

“After all, it’s so sad: for her, for the match, for the game.”Former champion Martina Navratilova has seen a lot of turmoil in tennis in her 50s. “She tried to avoid or minimize a problem for herself and instead made it bigger than it was at first.”

It is unwise at this time to speculate on the full extent of Osaka’s difficulties. She is still taking them upon herself, and in her retirement announcement on social media, she said she experienced the stress of beating Serena Williams in a turbulent final since the 2018 US Open.

What is clear is that the catalyst in Paris, if only as a catalyst, is one of the mainstays of the professional game: the press conference.

Claiming to take care of his mental health, Osaka announced before the match that it would not hold “any press conferences” during the French Open. Press conferences are mandatory at the Grand Slams for players in need, and Osaka was the first tennis star to make it clear that he intended to break the rules while in the tournament.

His announcement on social media took the organizers of the French Open and the sports administration by surprise. That was his first misjudgment. The next one was not available when those tennis leaders asked for more information exactly.

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Gilles Moraton, the new president of the French Tennis Federation, and others tried to talk to him several times without success.

When he missed the press conference following his first round victory on Sunday against Patricia Maria Dick, He was fined $ 15,000 by the French Open and made it clear that he would be expelled from the tournament and future Grand Slam matches if those responsible for the Grand Slam match refused to comply with his obligations to the media.

This is a tough position – very tough on what Osaka explained on Monday night. “I’m sorry for her, I’m just feeling like the game has handled this in general,” said Pam Sriver, a former top player and president of the WTA Tour Players Association. “I feel like the Grand Slam announcement added fuel to the fire irreversibly. I think they should have kept their ideas and efforts quiet, not made public, and worked behind the scenes. This is especially difficult for many young people because they are the elephant in the epidemic room.”

There is more depression in sports than many people realize. The problem is, Osaka did not provide that explanation to tennis officials – publicly or openly privately – until Monday night.

Given the importance of Osaka and the awareness and sensitivity of athletes’ mental health issues, it is hard to imagine that Morreton or other Grand Slam leaders would not have worked with him to find further solutions. Compromise in the short term was a clear picture.

Instead, they were left in ignorance for a long time: Osaka focused on his pre-match complaints about the reform of the game’s player-media model, citing a series of over-the-counter questions and question marks that left him skeptical. Professional journalists may have better ways to learn more about tennis players and their sports.

Tennis champions and aspiring champions have faced these kinds of challenges in the interview room for decades, and if Osaka is sensitive to questions about his weaknesses in the clay, imagine how Pete Sampras felt when asked about his own. You have been failing for more than a decade Roland Corros failed to win.

Osaka addressed the media after losing in the third round of the 2020 Australian Open.  Credit ... Kelly Tefina / Getty Images
Osaka addressed the media after losing in the third round of the 2020 Australian Open. Credit … Kelly Tefina / Getty Images

He continued to attend press conferences and continue to win awards, as Jana Novotna did at Wimbledon before winning the singles title in 1998.

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As Billy Jean King would like to say, stress is a privilege, and the recurring questions are an inconvenience, but a reflection of the legitimate interest of the public.. Mostly positive media coverage has helped Osaka become the highest paid female athlete in the world. Last year it earned more than $ 55 million in revenue, almost all from approved contracts.

This brings new pressures. Croatian male star Marin Cilic, who once fell in the middle of the Wimbledon final, said, “He has a lot to worry about.”

But facing unpleasant questions, even in failure, does not seem to be an excessive demand. More formal options for “no comment” or very polite objection. However, one of the results of L’Afair Osaka was that some players found it too much (and it went unnoticed that Morreton did not accept questions at his own brief press conference on Monday night). The debate will be: What special treatment should these players receive?

One of the reasons for the difficult situation in the Grand Slam matches with Osaka is the desire for honesty.

“I think Naomi always had problems speaking in public and dealing with the press. She was always nervous and she finally got a head start.”Rennie Stubbs, a former No. 1 doubles player, is now a round coach and ESPN analyst. “You can not allow a player to have an unfair advantage by not going to the press after the game. It takes a lot of time, so if one player does not do it, it’s not fair. But after that, it’s time to analyze everything carefully.”

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Serena Williams was understood after her first-round victory in Paris on Monday.

“I’m sorry for Naomi,” he said. “I think I want to hug him because I know what he is. I was there. We have different personalities, people are different.”

“I’m tough,” Williams said, perhaps noting that he doesn’t usually suffer from criticism. “Others are gentle. Everyone is different, everyone handles things differently. You need to allow him to handle it as he pleases, in the best way he can. “

This is a good option, but it is also important to learn when things go wrong. If this unfortunate situation had been handled differently from the start, it would have been obvious that Osaka would not have felt a distraction and would have been preparing for the second round in Paris instead of packing without knowing when it would return. Play Wimbledon when it starts within a month.

But the fundamental problems facing Osaka will continue.

“It’s more than just talking to the press,” Navratilova said. “It’s so much deeper than that, we have no way of knowing, we can not guess how deep it is.”

Christopher Claire has covered the World Games for the Times and the International Herald Tribune for over 25 years from his sites in France, Spain and the United States. His specialty is tennis, football, the Olympics and sailing. rist Christopher Clare

(C) The New York Times

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