Dear Naomi Osaka, Please See Rafael Nadal Re: Mental Health

Women’s tennis alpha gal Naomi Osaka made news this week by announcing that she would not be talking to the press during the French Open.

Tennis star Naomi Osaka says she is not going to speak to the media during the upcoming French Open.

The world’s highest-earning female athlete wrote in a Twitter post Wednesday that she hopes the “considerable amount that I get fined for this will go towards a mental health charity.” . . .

“I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes mental health and this very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one,” wrote Osaka, who was selected as the AP Female Athlete of the Year in 2020. “We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.”

Osaka added: “I’ve watched many clips of athletes breaking down after a loss in the press room and I know you have as well. I believe that whole situation is kicking a person while they’re down and I don’t understand the reasoning behind it.”

Here’s one rationale, via Rafael Nadal in the New York Times.

“As sports people, we need to be ready to accept the questions and try to produce an answer, no?” Nadal said. “I understand her, but in the other hand, for me, without the press, without the people who normally are traveling, who are writing the news and achievements that we are having around the world, probably we will not be the athletes that we are today. We aren’t going to have the recognition that we have around the world, and we will not be that popular, no?”

For most of his career, Nadal has been the most emotionally honest – and vulnerable – athlete in recent memory, remarkably willing to wrestle with his insecurities in public. Here, from a 2011 Wall Street Journal piece, is a typical example.

Nadal said he would need time to regain the confidence, and the indomitable status, he had in 2010, when he became the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same season. He said that even if he wins the U.S. Open, he won’t feel in perfect mental condition until next year.

“I’m going to go and practice with the right attitude,” he said. “And hopefully next January I will be there competing at a little bit higher level than this year.”

At an especially low point in 2015, after losing in the third round of the Miami Open to fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, Nadal said,  “The thing is the question of being enough relaxed to play well on court. A month and a half ago I didn’t have the game. My game has improved but … I am still playing with too much nerves for a lot of moments, important moments, still a little anxious on those moments.”

Several months later Nadal suffered a second-round loss to No. 102-ranked qualifier Dustin Brown at Wimbledon. A report in World Tennis noted how far Nadal had fallen and how open he had been about it.

With his ranking now set to drop well out of the top 10, the 29-year-old Nadal is mired by an extreme lack of confidence that has haunted him all season – losing at Roland Garros for only the second time in a decade and not winning a singles title on his beloved European clay. The 14-time major singles champion has been candid in press conferences about this lack of confidence, using surprisingly harsh negative language to describe the state of his game. Chris Evert remarked on ESPN prior to Nadal’s match with Brown that she had “never heard of a top player talk so much about a lack of confidence.”

Nadal has recovered enough confidence since then to win six more majors, an Olympic gold medal, and a Davis Cup title.

Naomi Osaka says she doesn’t want to subject herself to people who doubt her.

Rafael Nadal, by contrast, has shown that dealing with the press doesn’t always damage a player’s mental health. In some cases, it might even be therapeutic.

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2 Responses to Dear Naomi Osaka, Please See Rafael Nadal Re: Mental Health

  1. Bob Gardner says:

    Maybe it’s therapeutic, but the fact that athletes are fined for not appearing at these press conferences suggests that something is going on besides therapy. Is it really journalism when you interview someone under those conditions? Maybe the reporters should just stop going to these things, and find more creative ways to do their job. It might be more stressful at first, but they might become better, more emotionally stable people for their trouble.

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      I have sympathy for Osaka and those press scrums can often be a clown show, but she could have handled this a lot better. For most of the press, post-match pig piles are the closest they’ll ever get to an interview. Otherwise, players would just cover themselves on social media. Either way, the four majors are gonna have to do something about the situation – either become more flexible . . . or less.

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