One of tennis’s brightest superstars, Naomi Osaka, recently made headlines when she retired from Roland Garros and Wimbledon. She cited the need to prioritize mental health as the reason for the leave.
The move drew immense criticism from many tennis fans and even competitors. She was fined for refusing to meet with the media and reprimanded by sports commentators around the world. She returned to compete for the Olympics, representing her home country, Japan, and had the honor of lighting the torch during the opening ceremony. However, the No. 2 ranked player in the world fell disappointingly in the third round, losing in straight sets to eventual runner-up Marketa Vondrousova.
Shortly after the tournament, Osaka announced that she would be taking more time off tennis, although she is expected to return at the end of the summer when she heads the US Open in a few months. weeks. With the spotlight immaculate from the last major tennis event of the year, Osaka will take the pitch in New York. After looking at the past few months for Osaka, it’s obvious she could enjoy an extended break from tennis. Despite this apparent need, she will nevertheless take the field for the US Open and defend her title.
Last year, Osaka beat Victoria Azarenka in straight sets to win her 4th major; However, since then she has endured a series of mental health issues and poor performance. After enduring a global pandemic and persevering through unprecedented times, would it be possible for the world to better understand Naomi Osaka’s struggles?
Many observers argue that Osaka is paid millions and should be able to perform at the highest level, regardless of the impact on his mental health. However, it is evident that external factors, most notably the COVID pandemic, have taken their toll on her. Could it be that taking a 4 month break from tennis would serve him the best? Even if she pulls off an impressive streak of back-to-back US Open titles and wins, her long-term sanity could be badly damaged and cause her to suffer a massive setback.
It’s rare for athletes at the top of their respective sports to take a break right before a major tournament, but it could be the right move. The first major event of 2022 takes place in February, with the Australian Open starting the year. If Osaka focuses on restoring his sanity for an extended period and takes a break from tennis until then, it could reignite his career. She could resume her training in December and step up her diet in January, in preparation for the Australian Open. Hopefully her mental health improves this time around and she’s in great shape for a successful season.
The reality is that it would be very difficult for Osaka to skip the US Open and go that route. Taking time off tennis and moving on to another major would clearly be the best long-term decision for her. But, many “fans” and watchers still don’t take mental health issues seriously. After withdrawing from Roland-Garros, she declared “In any other area of work, you’d be forgiven for taking a personal day here and there, as long as it’s not usual. You wouldn’t have to disclose your most personal symptoms to your employer… I felt under great pressure to disclose my symptoms – frankly because the press and the tournament didn’t believe me. Osaka’s post further perpetuates the idea that the press and many people involved in elite-level tennis still did not respect the complexity or accept the reality of his mental health issues.
A lot of people see the end product or Osaka’s performance on the pitch, but don’t see the elite preparation, persistence, and mental toughness it takes for her to be successful. Struggles, weak points, and adversity can take its toll on anyone, whether you see it or not. It is obvious that Naomi Osaka is in trouble. Regarding her decision to skip press conferences at major tournaments, she spoke courageously admitting that “The truth is I’ve suffered long periods of depression since the US Open in 2018, and I’ve had a hard time coping with it. So here in Paris, I already felt vulnerable and anxious, so I thought it was best to be cautious and avoid press conferences. This further illustrates the importance of self-care and putting mental health first, even as a top athlete in the world.
However, it’s not just elite level athletes like Naomi Osaka who face mental health challenges. Anyone can be susceptible to these struggles and the importance of maintaining sufficient mental health cannot be compromised. At Skidmore College, we can all support and watch each other, regardless of our personal interests and roles on campus.