Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open on Monday and wrote on Twitter that she would be taking a break from competition, a dramatic turn of events for a four-time Grand Slam champion who said she experiences “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking to the media and revealed she has “suffered long bouts of depression.”
Osaka announced her decision, a day after she was fined $15,000 for not attending a post-match media conference and threatened with expulsion after her first-round win.
Former Indian tennis star and Davis Cup captain Mahesh Bhupathi, in an exclusive interaction with News18, said that he disagrees with Osaka.
“I, having done a few press conferences myself, disagree with what she says. There are two aspects to it — I think press is part and parcel of the circus you kind of sign up for and it goes as deep as becoming part of your routine. It becomes part of a responsibility specifically for top tennis players,” Bhupathi told News18 in an exclusive.
“Do the press kind of ask difficult questions? Absolutely. I for one, have had enough runs with the press to know that, but you always have the option in the press room to say ‘I don’t want to answer that, next question’, you know not to deal with it. You are in control of a narrative, so I definitely think it could have definitely been handled better,” he added.
“All of us who’ve seen Osaka win from the first time she did against Serena in that controversial match. In all her interviews, you know that she’s kind of an introvert, the way she answers questions, she’s very soft-spoken.
“I think it was also a little bit of bad timing from every perspective, because literally 4-5 days before that, I think the media statements came out, Forbes announced that she was the highest-paid woman athlete in the world. If you put all those pieces together, I don’t think it could have been worse timing,” Bhupati added.
The 46-year-old Bhupathi said that in an individual spot sport like tennis, the pressures are different.
“Mental health is a very serious issue. I am not sure if every athlete is dealing with it. I think a lot of athletes do deal with it because it’s a very individual sport (tennis), a very lonely sport. The pressures are different. The need to succeed — you only win money if you win matches, it can drive a lot of people to different forms of depression. It’s a very serious issue, but I am not sure, you know, when you have an injury, you take some time off, you rehab, you come back.”
Bhupati cited the example of Australian cricketer Glenn Maxwell, who had revealed that he battled depression during the 2019 Cricket World Cup, as the Australian took a break in late 2019 but returned to action a year later.
“We saw this last year or the year before with Glenn Maxwell. He took some time off the field, went away, fixed himself, came back and he’s having an incredible IPL,” Bhupati said.
Bhupathi though added that he feels Osaka can become the face of women’s tennis.
“I am a fan of Naomi. With Maria retired and Serena at the twilight of her career, I think she’s going to be the face of women’s tennis for a long time, but it’s a mixture of bad decision and bad advice that has escalated into this unnecessary episode of the last five days,” he added.