Four-time Major winner Naomi Osaka announced on Wednesday that she wouldn't be taking part in any press conference at Roland Garros 2021. Osaka claimed press conferences can be detrimental to the mental health of players after tough losses, and declared that she was willing to accept whatever fine was imposed on her for the decision.
The winner of the last two hardcourt Slams in women's tennis, Naomi Osaka has always been vocal about issues around her, whether in society or in tennis. The young champion is seen as a bringer of change in how modern athletes are perceived - not only as sporting idols but also as enlightened individuals.
Osaka took to Twitter just a day before the Roland Garros draw ceremony to announce her decision, highlighting the often ignored discussion about the mental health of professional athletes.
"I'm writing this to say I'm not going to do any press during Roland Garros," Osaka wrote. "I've often felt that people have no regard for athletes' mental health and this rings true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one."
Naomi Osaka also took a veiled shot at the ATP, WTA and ITF, the governing bodies in tennis. All three organizations mandate that a player has to attend a press conferences after every match they play, and the failure to do so incurs a hefty fine (often in thousands of dollars).
Osaka claimed in her statement that the fines imposed by the organizations disregard the toll taken by the pressers on the mental health of the players. She also expressed hope that whatever amount she was fined for her Roland Garros decision would be donated to a mental health organization.
"If the organizations think that they can just keep saying, 'Do press or you're going to be fined', and continue to ignore the mental health of the athletes that are the centerpiece of their cooperation then I just gotta laugh," she added. "Anyways, I hope the considerable amount that I get fined for this will go towards a mental health charity."
Naomi Osaka has also spoken about societal issues on multiple occasions in the past. The most notable of those instances was her campaign against racial injustice in the United States, which saw her emerge as one of the leading faces of the 'Black Lives Matter' movement among the athletic fraternity.
Top Journalists divided on Naomi Osaka's press conference decision
Naomi Osaka's announcement was certain to cause plenty of chaos in the tennis community, especially since it came just hours before Roland Garros went live with its draw for the 2021 tournament.
New York Times' Ben Rothenberg sounded quite indifferent to the World No. 2's choice. But he did make a snide remark highlighting the smallness of the penalty for missing a press conference in tennis.
TV presenter Abigail Johnson acknowledged Naomi Osaka's concerns, but proceeded with a statement in favor of press conferences - if done in the right manner.
Naomi Osaka did find support from one corner of top journalists, as Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim proclaimed his support for the Australian Open champion in rather strong words.
Wertheim equated press conferences to a Churchillian form of democracy and called for drastic improvements in their structure. However, the veteran journalist also accepted that it's the best alternative in existence at the moment.
Meanwhile, several fans on Twitter bashe Naomi Osaka for what they perceived as paying her way out of an uncomfortable situation. Some fans did applaud her for the unusual step, but others accused the 23-year-old of trying to promote her own brand image through a copout.
Though opinions are divided on the nature of Naomi Osaka's decision, the player community remains united on the sentiment it demonstrates. The way press conferences are conducted has often been criticized by the players, especially with regard to the sensitivity of the questions asked.
Many claim that tennis players and athletes in individual sports are more vulnerable in comparison to those in team sports. And several tennis players have now begun opening up about their struggles with mental health - including Nick Kyrgios and, more recently, Dominic Thiem.
At such a time, Naomi Osaka's stance could usher in a wind of change in a positive direction. However, it remains to be seen how the governing bodies react to the Japanese' stance.