Naomi Osaka: Serena Williams wants to hug world No.2

Osaka’s departure from the tournament follows his decision not to attend any press conference at Roland Garros, initially citing mental health reasons.

She has since revealed that she “suffered from long bouts of depression” after winning her first Grand Slam title in 2018.

Other sports stars, including Usain Bolt, Kyrie Irving and Venus Williams, also showed their support for Osaka by commenting on her Instagram post, the latter writing: “So proud of you. Take care and see you soon!”

In her post-match press conference, 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams said: “The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi. to be able to hug her because I know what it is. Like I said, I’ve been in these positions. “

However, other tennis stars have said media duties are an integral part of the job.

“The press and the players and the tournaments go hand in hand,” said Victoria Azarenka, two-time Grand Slam champion. “I think it’s very important in the development of our sport, in the promotion of our sport.”

She added that there were times when the media needed to be more empathetic.

World No.5 Sofia Kenin acknowledged the pressure of being a young athlete in the spotlight, but said, “That’s what you signed up for.”

“It’s sport. There are expectations from the outside, from the sponsors and from everyone. You just have to manage it one way or another,” Kenin added.

Osaka wears a face mask with the name Ahmaud Arbery stenciled after winning her third round in women's singles against Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine on day five of the 2020 US Open.

An outdated practice?

The withdrawal from Osaka has prompted questions about the relationship athletes have with the media and whether or not press conferences are working at the expense of their sanity.

“I am not a natural public speaker and I get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to media around the world,” Osaka said in her statement online.

In the Guardian, Jonathan Liew described press conferences as “more of a meaningful exchange” but rather “a cynical and often predatory game”, where athletes are subjected to “intimate matters in the least intimate setting”.

Other journalists have taken a less sympathetic stance.

“Naomi Osaka’s immaturity, preciousness and hypocrisy leaves me speechless,” Will Swanton wrote in The Australian.

“After telling everyone to denounce the injustices of this world, she decided to complain, refusing to give press conferences at Roland Garros … while being quite happy to pocket the millions of dollars of prizes offered by tournament and government agency to which it returns the bird. “

Osaka celebrates after beating Tig in her first round in the women's singles at Roland Garros.

Traditional press in the age of social media

However, some have highlighted how black women are scrutinized when they disclose their mental health issues to the media, drawing parallels between British tabloids’ treatment of Meghan Markle.

The withdrawal from Osaka also poses a wider debate over whether athletes still need traditional media in the age of social media.

Press conferences and other long-established media environments are no longer the only way for athletes to make their voices heard, with online platforms allowing players to communicate directly with fans and control their own narrative.

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