All Naomi Osaka wanted to do was get through the French Open without having to answer why she isn’t that good on clay. Now, she’s decided to take matters into her own hands and just not even bother with the rest of the French Open.
What a head-spinning turn of events.
A bully move? Yup!
Instead of facing more than just fines and who knows what else, in a unprecedented move Osaka simply decided to just leave the tournament and go home. And in her new statement yesterday, she revealed she’s been battling depression and that she might need to take a break from tennis.
Predictably, the response has been largely positive for Osaka while negative for the tournament, the Slams and the WTA.
So terrified of losing Osaka and facing even more heat from the public, the Slams/tours are now scrambling to make things right with the 4-time Slam champion.
“On behalf of the Grand Slams, we wish to offer Naomi Osaka our support and assistance in any way possible as she takes time away from the court. She is an exceptional athlete and we look forward to her return as soon as she deems appropriate,” they four Slams wrote in a statement.
“Mental health is a very challenging issue, which deserves our utmost attention. It is both complex and personal, as what affects one individual does not necessarily affect another. We commend Naomi for sharing in her own words the pressures and anxieties she is feeling and we empathise with the unique pressures tennis players may face. ”
So in just 24 hours or so, the Slams went from “we will default you if don’t attend our press conferences to we will do all that we can to help you.”
Osaka’s a tough read. Was/is she battling depression? She’s won three Slams since that incredible first US Open, but we have to take her at her word.
Is she an introvert? She sure is not shy about taking public stances that will put her right in the white-hot spotlight. And she’s sure not shy about endorsing products which I’ve read bank her $50M/year.
Regardless, the Slams and tennis do not want to lose Osaka (and let’s be honest, Osaka needs tennis, as well). She’s the new TV star. And once Serena hangs it up, Osaka will take over the reigns as the single biggest draw in the women’s game, maybe even in the sport post-Big 3.
The Slams know this. Wimbledon doesn’t want to lose Osaka. The US Open does want to lose Osaka and the Australian Open doesn’t want to lose Osaka. Of course the WTA has to have her. They can’t have her off the tour or pulling out of events like this. Not age the ripe age of 23.
Money talks. And that’s a lot of money at stake here.
So where do we go from here? Well, after this past week Osaka has now vaulted herself up to the Federer/Nadal/Djokovic/Serena level (she’s been all over the general news in the U.S.). Where she can start making rules, making changes. She’s already making statements, both on and off the court.
She has the public support, player support and even a lot of media support (especially non-tennis media). So it’s Osaka vs the Tour. And as we have seen in other sports and in tennis, in this new age of sports-is-entertainment, the stars usually win.
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