Osaka’s French Open exit blazes path for debate

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The mental toll of professional tennis will be in focus as the curtain rises at Roland Garros next week, a year since four-time major winner Naomi Osaka sparked fresh debate around athletes’ mental health.

 The former world number one stunned the tennis world when she withdrew from the clay court major after boycotting post-match media duties, prompting a row with tournament officials.

 The Japanese player revealed she had been suffering from depression for almost three years, setting off a ripple effect as top athletes like Olympic gymnastics great Simone Biles put their well-being into focus.

The saga also cast a spotlight on tennis majors’ pressure-cooker post-match media mandates, as Roland-Garros organisers conceded they could ‘do better’ on mental health.

 Osaka did not respond to a request for comment this week.

Tournament director Amelie Mauresmo told reporters in March that organisers were preparing ‘even weeks before’ the tournament to ensure they were equal to the challenge.

“We see already that the emotions are really, really hard sometimes to handle for some players,” she said.

Mauresmo, a former world number one and twice Grand Slam winner, said she would be the first person to address complaints for players and that she had been in contact with Osaka’s camp.

“We are really prepared for what might or might not come on this side of the mental health part for this year,” she added.

MEDIA OBLIGATIONS

Additional measures have been arranged to ease the burden of media obligations.

Organisers plan to arrange mixed zones for players who have not been specifically requested for press conferences and will reportedly instruct moderators to intervene if questions grow repetitive.

Osaka’s stand a year ago sent organisers and brands scrambling to better support their athletes but progress has been incremental. (Reuters)