Naomi Osaka has decided to skip press conferences at this year’s French Open, in order to preserve her mental health and focus on tennis. It is a bold move by the influential 23-year-old and she is ready to pay fines for her unprecedented decision.
The tennis community understands that it is often not easy to face the media and answer numerous, often repeated questions, especially after tough losses, but it can’t be overlooked that those very journalists play an important part in spreading the sport’s popularity and putting tennis stars among the highest-earning athletes in the world.
Fellow Grand Slam champions Ashleigh Barty, Iga Swiatek and Rafael Nadal commented on whether chats with the press are affecting their mental stability and what they think about Osaka’s decision.
The 2019 French Open winner Barty said:
In my opinion, press is kind of part of the job. We know what we sign up for as professional tennis players. I can’t really comment on what Naomi is feeling or her decisions.
At times, press conferences are hard, of course, but it’s also not something that bothers me. I’ve never had problems answering questions or being completely honest with you guys.
Rafael Nadal has won Roland Garros thirteen times and has been honored with a steel statue at tournament site. The ATP ace has tons of experience with the media and understands how important they are for the worldwide success and recognition the players are enjoying:
I understand her, but on 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?
Nineteen-year-old Swiatek, who is defending her Roland Garros title this year, also respects the media presence:
I feel that the media is really important as well because they are giving us, you are giving us, a platform to talk about our lives and our perspective. It’s also important, because not everybody is a professional athlete, and not everybody knows what we are dealing with on court. It’s good to speak about that. We have like two ways to do that: media and social media. It’s good to use both of these platforms and to educate people.
The WTA states that they welcome a dialog with athletes and care about their mental health, but media obligations are an integral part of the sport. Billie Jean King, the most important person for the rise of women’s tennis, is disappointed by Osaka’s decision:
In our day, without the press, nobody would have known who we are or what we thought. There is no question they helped build and grow our sport to what it is today. I acknowledge things are very different now with social media and everyone having an immediate ability to speak their truth. The media still play an important role in telling our story. There is no question that the media needs to respect certain boundaries. But at the end of the day, it is important we respect each other and we are in this together.