Tennis great Boris Becker has stressed the need for a bigger conversation around mental health in sports, saying he is happy that the issue got traction in the wake of the shock withdrawal of Naomi Osaka from Roland-Garros this year.
The current World No.2 shared a long note on Twitter, announcing her pullout from the women’s draw after being threatened with expulsion by the French Open organizers over her decision not to do press during the tournament.
Earlier, in an emailed explainer to the French Tennis Federation, she had detailed her reasons to skip press conferences at the event saying it was in the interest of preserving her mental sanity.
However, with the organizers sticking to their guns and even throwing the tournament rulebook at her after levying a fine of $15,000 for foregoing her press obligations, the Japanese star decided to withdraw.
Announcing her pullout, she revealed that she had been battling mental illness over the last couple of years and even experienced bouts of anxiety attacks when it came to meeting the press.
Tennis is starting to understand mental health after Naomi Osaka struggles
But there were those who reminded her that fulfilling media obligations is what every professional athlete signs up for.
Speaking to leading English daily The Guardian, Becker said that the sense he got in the light of the Osaka controversy is that the sport is “starting to understand mental health”.
He said the mental health issue is “real” and the minders of the sport need to do everything in their powers to ensure the players are not under undue stress.
Tennis -WTA Premier 5 – Italian Open – Foro Italico, Rome, Italy – May 12, 2021 Japan’s Naomi Osaka looks dejected after losing her second round match against Jessica Pegula of U.S. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
“There’s been a lot of discussion about Naomi Osaka pulling out of the French Open because of bouts of depression. It’s very worrying, I think the struggle is real,” the six-time Grand Slam champion said.
Osaka saga shows keeping good mental and physical health paramount for athletes
Becker added that it’s often tough for athletes to handle the pressure of expectations that comes from winning.
The champion added keeping oneself in good physical and mental health means a lot more than winning titles.
“It’s easier said than done — with winning comes expectations and responsibilities – but feeling good about yourself will always be more important than winning. The tennis community has to make sure they’re not putting players under too much pressure,” Becker said.
Osaka skipped this year’s Wimbledon Championships to give herself more time to recover from her mental illness and is due to return at the Tokyo Olympics.
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