Naomi Osaka: Pundits discuss French Open withdrawal
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The US Open will be providing players with access to mental health resources and professionals as the tournament kicks off next week. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) announced their decision on Tuesday (August 24), wanting to make mental health services as “readily available” as those for their physical health. The decision comes after Naomi Osaka withdrew from Roland Garros and Wimbledon this year, citing her mental health after choosing not to participate in press conferences.
Osaka is the defending champion at the upcoming US Open, and has been largely responsible for opening up the conversation surrounding mental health in sport.
In May, she announced she would not be attending press conferences at Roland Garros to protect her mental wellbeing, and was happy to pay fines as punishment.
The Grand Slams then threatened her with further sanctions including disqualification and the world No 3 withdrew from the French Open ahead of her second round, later also pulling out of Wimbledon and revealing she had suffered with bouts of depression for years.
The USTA has now confirmed there will be a number of mental health initiatives ahead of the US Open, which starts on Monday (August 30).
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Players competing at Flushing Meadows will have access to the tournament’s “comprehensive medical services program,” which will include access to mental health providers and “quiet rooms” on site, the USTA said in a written statement.
US Open Tournament Director Stacey Allaster said: “The issue of mental health awareness has been brought to the forefront over the course of the global pandemic, as many individuals, players included, have struggled with the stresses and emotions that have come as a result of COVID-19.”
Simone Biles also widened the conversation on athletes’ mental health when she withdrew from multiple events at the Tokyo Olympics citing the need to focus on her mental health, after suffering with the ‘twisties’, a state of disassociation between the mind and body which stops athletes from being able to successfully perform, potentially leading to a serious injury.
She also praised Osaka for speaking up about mental health, and revealed that the four-time Grand Slam champion had reached out to her during her struggles at the Olympics.
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Brian Hainline, first vice president of the USTA and a professor of neurology at Indiana University and New York University, is hoping the initiatives at the US Open will increase accessibility to mental health support.
“Our goal is to make mental health services as readily available to athletes as services for a sprained ankle – and with no stigma attached,” he said.
“We will provide an environment that fosters wellness.”
World No 3 Osaka is expected to play in Flushing Meadows and attempt to defend her US Open crown.
Since pulling out of the French Open and Wimbledon, she has only played in the Tokyo Olympics and the WTA 1000 in Cincinnati.
The Japanese tennis star suffered shock third-round defeats in both events, falling to 2019 Roland Garros runner-up Marketa Vondrousova in Tokyo, where Osaka was dubbed the ‘face’ of the games and was a favourite to win a medal.
She then returned to official WTA Tour-level competition in Cincinnati last week, coming from a set down to beat Coco Gauff in an exciting second-round clash after receiving a bye.
The former world No 1 lost to wild card and eventual runner-up Jil Teichmann in the following round, before turning her attention to her US Open title defence.
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