In a recent interview, former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli claimed that Naomi Osaka faces a unique kind of pressure every time she steps on the court. Bartoli also opined that it was unfair to compare Osaka's situation with that of newly crowned US Open winner Emma Raducanu.
During her fairytale run in New York, Raducanu played like a seasoned veteran and seemed unfazed by the pressure and spotlight that came with every win. However, Bartoli feels that the 18-year-old's circumstances were vastly different from what Osaka - who has won four Majors already - faces on a daily basis.
"First of all, it’s one thing to come out and play when you have absolutely nothing to lose," Bartoli said while speaking with Tennis Majors. "It’s another thing when you win four Grand Slams, earn $55 million in endorsements a year and you have to prove and feel like you deserve that every single time you play a tennis match."
Naomi Osaka's on-court triumphs have bagged her a ton of high-profile endorsements, making her one of the world's highest paid athletes. The Japanese earned around $60 million last year thanks to her hefty endorsement portfolio coupled with her tennis earnings.
In that context, Marion Bartoli opined that it is difficult for players to keep aside their off-court issues and responsibilities when they step on the court to play. Bartoli believes that after a certain period, players cannot play with carefree abandon like they do at the start of their careers.
The Frenchwoman went on to claim it was simply not possible for Naomi Osaka to play like Emma Raducanu, whose inexperience at the pro level made her relatively impervious to pressure.
"As much as it is easy to say 'Oh just play tennis like you were when you were 16 or 17 and innocent' – it's impossible to be that way again for Osaka," Bartoli said. "It's literally impossible. When you represent so much, when you are the face of so many brands, very prestigious brands, of course. When you step on the court the only thing that is going to make you happy is to win. And not even happy, she says it is more relief when she’s winning, because she’s not letting anybody down when she’s winning."
In Naomi Osaka's case, her tennis achievements have put her under immense scrutiny. When brands invest in a player, it's because they think they're going to be successful. They don't want them to lose at all, much less in the earlier rounds.
According to Bartoli, every match Osaka plays would feel like a must-win - not only for herself, but also for everyone that has invested in her. The Frenchwoman opined that that kind of pressure can cause anyone to crumble, since it takes the joy out of playing tennis.
"They are not paying you to lose first round, second round, third round, they are paying you because you win Grand Slams," Bartoli said. "So all of a sudden you feel like you play for yourself, you feel like you're playing for everyone that gives you that money to be on the court and play tennis."
Emma Raducanu & Leylah Fernandez didn't have the kind of responsibilities that Naomi Osaka had: Marion Bartoli
Marion Bartoli went on to reiterate that unlike Naomi Osaka, Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez were free from the additional responsibilities that come from being a top player. Fernandez, like Raducanu, made it all the way to the final of the US Open despite being in her teens.
"She (Naomi Osaka) has so much responsibility, that I don’t think Emma was having or Leylah was having those kinds of responsibilities coming into the US Open," Bartoli said. "They were just normal players coming in to try and win a match."
Bartoli further claimed she wants to see if the youngsters, who have been catapulated into stardom following their US Open runs, are able to handle the pressure that comes from being in the spotlight.
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"And this is why for me it’s going to be fascinating to see, if they keep on winning," the former Wimbledon champion said. "They are going to have so many endorsements, so many more brands where it feels like you are owing them something; are they going to play the same way, are they going to behave the same way on the court and still have that same joy? So for me it’s going to be really fascinating to see the evolution of those two girls."