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Martina Navratilova says Naomi Osaka ‘tried to make situation better for herself but made it worse’

Women’s tennis great Martina Navratilova has said Naomi Osaka‘s decision to withdraw from the French Open ended up making the situation worse rather than better, following the controversy over her decision to boycott media obligations.

‘Kudos to Naomi Osaka for caring so much about the other players,’ 18-time Grand Slam singles champion Navratilova said. 

‘While she tried to make a situation better for herself and others, she inadvertently made it worse.’ 

Four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka announced her decision on Monday, a day after being fined $15,000 for not attending a post-match media conference and threatened with expulsion after her first-round win. 

Naomi Osaka’s boycott of media duties has overshadowed the start of the French Open

Martina Navratilova, 64, has come out in support of Naomi Osaka's decision to pull out of the French Open

Martina Navratilova, 64, has come out in support of Naomi Osaka’s decision to pull out of the French Open

Navratilova said that she was saddened by Osaka's pulling out of the tournament

Navratilova said that she was saddened by Osaka’s pulling out of the tournament

The Japanese player, cited the negative impact on her mental wellbeing caused by facing journalists at post-match press conferences as the reason for her boycott. 

She wrote on Twitter that she had suffered from depression since 2018. 

Navratilova said that she was saddened by Osaka’s pulling out of the tournament.  

‘I am so sad about Naomi Osaka. I truly hope she will be okay,’ Navratilova said.

‘As athletes we are taught to take care of our body, and perhaps the mental and emotional aspect gets short shrift,’ Navratilova said.

‘This is about more than doing or not doing a press conference. Good luck Naomi — we are all pulling for you!’

The tone was significantly different to commentary aired on the Tennis Channel on Sunday when instead of publicly supporting Osaka she said the player’s issue ‘is not a mental health issue and is a mental issue’ before telling her to ‘woman up’. 

Friend and competitor on the tennis court, former world number one Serena Williams, showed understanding towards Osaka

Friend and competitor on the tennis court, former world number one Serena Williams, showed understanding towards Osaka

Naomi, 23, famously beat Serena, 39, in the 2018 US Open, though her victory was marred by some drama with the umpire. Pair have faced each other four times with two wins between them

Naomi, 23, famously beat Serena, 39, in the 2018 US Open, though her victory was marred by some drama with the umpire. Pair have faced each other four times with two wins between them

Friend and competitor on the tennis court, former world number one Serena Williams, showed understanding towards Osaka.  

‘I feel for Naomi. Not everyone is the same. I’m thick. Other people are thin. Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently. You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to and the best way she thinks she can. That’s the only thing I can say: I think she is doing the best she can.’ 

Osaka famously beat Serena in the 2018 US Open, but she’s been looking up to her since she was a kid — and still gets nervous when she’s nearby.

‘Honestly, I’m kind of scared of her. Not scared scared but — I’m intimidated, and I get very shy when she’s like 10 feet away from me,’ she told Vogue in December.

Osaka and Serena have faced off on the court four times with two wins and two losses between the pair. 

Naomi Osaka (left) defeated her childhood idol Serena Williams (right) in their semi final showdown at the 2021 Australian Open

Naomi Osaka (left) defeated her childhood idol Serena Williams (right) in their semi final showdown at the 2021 Australian Open

'There's a lot of things she's so much better at. She's more aggressive. She knows when to go for her shots. Sometimes she hits really big service returns, and I can't do that,' Naomi said. Serena Williams is pictured consoling Naomi Osaka after her win at the 2018 US Open final

‘There’s a lot of things she’s so much better at. She’s more aggressive. She knows when to go for her shots. Sometimes she hits really big service returns, and I can’t do that,’ Naomi said. Serena Williams is pictured consoling Naomi Osaka after her win at the 2018 US Open final

She won at the March 2018 Miami Open and the September 2018 US Open, though Serena took the win at the August 2019 Canadian Open.

‘There’s a lot of things she’s so much better at. She’s more aggressive. She knows when to go for her shots. Sometimes she hits really big service returns, and I can’t do that at all,’  Osaka said.

Serena’s skill — and Osaka’s awe of her — has made facing off against her even harder.

‘That really affected me at the U.S. Open finals in 2018, but I had worked so hard for that moment, and I felt like if I were to be intimidated or show that I was scared of her, she would capitalize on that,’ she said,

‘When I’m stepping on the court, I have to treat her as a tennis player, not as Serena Williams.’

Serena Williams is pictured in her catsuit during the 2018 French Open Tennis Tournament for which she was later banned from wearing

Serena Williams is pictured in her catsuit during the 2018 French Open Tennis Tournament for which she was later banned from wearing

Nike later defended Serena Williams following the French Open¿s decision to ban her notorious black catsuit which she wore during the 2018 tournament

Nike later defended Serena Williams following the French Open’s decision to ban her notorious black catsuit which she wore during the 2018 tournament

Serena has had her own troubled with officials the French Open.

In 2018, the tournament ended up banning the notorious black catsuit she wore during the competition.

The star tweeted a photo of her wearing the outfit with the caption: ‘You can take the superhero out of her costume, but you can never take away her superpowers.’ 

Serena said she had been wearing the catsuit due for medical reasons and prevent her from getting blood clots. 

Her behavior on the court also came in for criticism during the US Open in 2018 in which she came close to being defaulted from the final as she lost to Osaka amid angry confrontations with umpire Carlos Ramos.

Williams was warned for illegal coaching, penalized a point for breaking her racket, and then penalized a game for verbal abuse of the chair umpire. It left her in tears having made threats to the umpire.    

Serena Williams' is pictured mid-meltdown during the 2018 US Open final

Serena Williams’ is pictured mid-meltdown during the 2018 US Open final

Williams got into an angry confrontation with umpire Carlos Ramos as she lost to Naomi Osaka

Williams got into an angry confrontation with umpire Carlos Ramos as she lost to Naomi Osaka

Elsewhere in the sporting world, Billie Jean King who won 39 Grand Slam titles during her career called Osaka’s move on Monday, ‘brave.’ 

‘It’s incredibly brave that Naomi Osaka has revealed her truth about her struggle with depression. Right now, the important thing is that we give her the space and time she needs. We wish her well.’

Basketball player for the Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry admired her response.  

‘You shouldn’t ever have to make a decision like this-but so damn impressive taking the high road when the powers that be don’t protect their own. major respect.’

There was a similar note of mutual respect from Cavaliers forward Kevin Love.

‘Love, respect, and positive energy your way.’ 

Basketball player for the Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry admired her response

Basketball player for the Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry admired her response

Tyler Lockett a Wide receiver for the Seahawks Tyler Locket wrote 'I support you Naomi'

Tyler Lockett a Wide receiver for the Seahawks Tyler Locket wrote ‘I support you Naomi’

,Billie Jean King who won 39 Grand Slam titles during her career called Osaka's move on Monday, 'brave.'

,Billie Jean King who won 39 Grand Slam titles during her career called Osaka’s move on Monday, ‘brave.’

‘It’s so sad that we are in a time that when a young person tells you they need help or a break, people respond with anger and a lack of support! I stand with you … Your mental health is just as important as your physical health,’ said Former WNBA star Lisa Leslie.

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shared just three words in support: ‘Proud of you.’ 

Former American player Mardy Fish, who struggled with anxiety issues during his career, said Osaka should be fully supported. 

‘Mental Health is nothing to criticize. Nothing to joke about. Please take your mental health seriously,’ he said. ‘Without my support system, I truly believe I would not be here today. Here for you.’  

Osaka also received support from NFL players too.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson similarly wrote: ‘We are with you… #Courage.’

‘I support you Naomi,’ wrote Tyler Lockett, a Wide receiver for the Seahawks Tyler Locket wrote ‘I support you Naomi.’

‘As human beings we have to do better at supporting each other. ‘Mental health’ is real. And to fine a person for trying to protect their peace is not giving somebody a safe place to be a persons best self.’

There was a note of mutual respect from Cavaliers forward Kevin Love

There was a note of mutual respect from Cavaliers forward Kevin Love

American football quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks Russell Wilson praised Osaka's 'courage'

American football quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks Russell Wilson praised Osaka’s ‘courage’

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shared just three words in support: 'Proud of you.'

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shared just three words in support: ‘Proud of you.’

Former Department of Housing and Urban Secretary Julián Castro (D) tweeted Osaka could 'spark needed changes' in post-game press conferences commending her for 'revealing as she has been about her mental health.'

Former Department of Housing and Urban Secretary Julián Castro (D) tweeted Osaka could ‘spark needed changes’ in post-game press conferences commending her for ‘revealing as she has been about her mental health.’

Former Department of Housing and Urban Secretary Julián Castro (D) tweeted Osaka could ‘spark needed changes’ in post-game press conferences commending her for ‘revealing as she has been about her mental health.’

‘A post-game press conference is often qualitatively different from other press events. The questions center a lot on the athlete’s psychology. Politicians or others don’t often get probed like that. So Osaka’s connection between this experience and her mental health rings true.’

 ‘I hope it will inspire sports organizations and the sports journalism industry to show maturity as well—make positive changes. It’s past time.’

Not everyone supported her decision. Fox Sports commentator Rob Parker called Osaka’s move ‘downright unprofessional.’  

‘Her boycott of the media at the French Open is misguided. Worse, it’s downright unprofessional.

‘If the tennis superstar is seriously dealing with a mental health issue — as she announced on social media before the tournament — she should have bowed out gracefully from the event and taken time for herself. Fans would have been disappointed, but understood. But to claim she can do everything else, but just can’t talk to the media is bogus,’ he wrote in an op-ed for Deadline.

‘Osaka simply has this all twisted. Talking to the media and selling the game to fans is part of her job. It’s what players sign up for before cashing all those million-dollar checks from playing professional tennis,’ Parker wrote.

‘The attack on the media is so wrong and dumb. The media is there for the fans. Most media members are just trying to do a job. It’s not about us. It’s never been. When you blow off the media, you’re telling fans they don’t matter and don’t count. Media members get paid whether they talk to the star players or not,’ he added.

Osaka said she decided to withdraw from the Grand Slam tournament because she did not want to become a ‘distraction’.

‘I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris,’ the world No. 2 said on Twitter.

Osaka said she regretted the timing of her media boycott. Navratilova said it had made the situation worse. 

‘Hope this solution, pulling out, as brutal as it is, will allow her to start healing and take care of herself,’ Navratilova added. 

NAOMI OSAKA FULL STATEMENT 

In a statement on her social media Osaka said: ‘I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris.

‘I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer. More importantly I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly.

‘The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that. Anyone that knows me knows I’m introverted, and anyone that has seen me at the tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety.

‘Though the tennis press has always been kind to me (and I wanna apologize especially to all the cool journalists who I may have hurt), I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media.

‘So here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences. I announced it pre-emptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that.

‘I’m gonna take some time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans.’

THE FOUR GRAND SLAMS STATEMENT IN FULL

Last Wednesday on social media that she would not participate in the mandatory media interviews at Roland-Garros 2021.

Following this announcement, the Roland-Garros teams asked her to reconsider her position and tried unsuccessfully to speak with her to check on her well-being, understand the specifics of her issue and what might be done to address it on site.

Following the lack of engagement by Naomi Osaka, the Australian Open, Roland-Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open jointly wrote to her to check on her well-being and offer support, underline their commitment to all athletes’ well-being and suggest dialog on the issues. She was also reminded of her obligations, the consequences of not meeting them and that rules should equally apply to all players.

Naomi Osaka today chose not to honour her contractual media obligations. The Roland-Garros referee has therefore issued her a $15,000 (£11,000) fine, in keeping with article III H. of the Code of Conduct.

The mental health of players competing in our tournaments and on the Tours is of the utmost importance to the Grand Slams.

We individually and collectively have significant resources dedicated to player well-being. In order to continue to improve however, we need engagement from the players to understand their perspective and find ways to improve their experiences. Every year we seek to deliver better experiences to our fans, our players and our people, and we have a long and successful track record in achievement on this count.

A core element of the Grand Slam regulations is the responsibility of the players to engage with the media, whatever the result of their match, a responsibility which players take for the benefit of the sport, the fans and for themselves. These interactions allow both the players and the media to share their perspective and for the players to tell their story. The facilitation of media to a broad array of channels, both traditional and digital, is a major contributor to the development and growth of our sport and the fan base of individual players.

We have advised Naomi Osaka that should she continue to ignore her media obligations during the tournament, she would be exposing herself to possible further Code of Conduct infringement consequences. As might be expected, repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament (Code of Conduct article III T.) and the trigger of a major offence investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions (Code of Conduct article IV A.3.).

We want to underline that rules are in place to ensure all players are treated exactly the same, no matter their stature, beliefs or achievement. As a sport there is nothing more important than ensuring no player has an unfair advantage over another, which unfortunately is the case in this situation if one player refuses to dedicate time to participate in media commitments while the others all honour their commitments.

Finally, all Grand Slams remain committed to continually reviewing and discussing opportunities, together with the Tours and the players, to improve every aspect of the player experience, including with the media. But we consider this is only ever achieved through respectful and constructive discussions.

*The statement was made on behalf of; Jayne Hrdlicka, Tennis Australia Chair & PresidentGilles Moretton, FFT President, Ian Hewitt, AELTC Chairman and Mike McNulty, USTA Chairman of the Board & President


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