Naomi Osaka is back at home in Los Angeles but the repercussions of her withdrawal from the French Open continue, with former champion Venus Williams pulling no punches when asked how she handled the pressure of having to deal with the media, and the Grand Slams making a statement.
Mental health is a very challenging issue, which deserves our utmost attention. It is both complex and personal, as what affects one individual does not necessarily affect another. We commend Naomi for sharing in her own words the pressures and anxieties she is feeling and we empathise with the unique pressures tennis players may face. Grand Slam Statement
“How I deal with it was, that I know every single person asking me a question can’t play as well as I can, and never will, so no matter what you say or what you write, you’ll never light a candle to me,” she said after exiting the clay court major in the first round for the fourth year running after being beaten 6-3 6-1 by Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova.
“That’s how I deal with it!”
On Tuesday, the leaders of the four Grand Slam events issued a joint statement expressing concern for Osaka, but it stopped short of an apology.
“On behalf of the Grand Slams, we wish to offer Naomi Osaka our support and assistance in any way possible as she takes time away from the court. She is an exceptional athlete and we look forward to her return as soon as she deems appropriate.
“Mental health is a very challenging issue, which deserves our utmost attention. It is both complex and personal, as what affects one individual does not necessarily affect another. We commend Naomi for sharing in her own words the pressures and anxieties she is feeling and we empathise with the unique pressures tennis players may face.”
FFT President Gilles Moretton, All England Club chairman Ian Hewitt, USTA President Mike McNulty and Tennis Australia President Jayne Hrdlicka pledged to work with players, the tours and media ‘to improve the player experience at our tournaments’ while making sure the athletes all are on a ‘fair playing field, regardless of ranking or status’.
In a separate statement issued Tuesday to the AP via email, ITF official Heather Bowler said the sport will ‘review what needs to evolve’ after Osaka ‘shone a light on mental health issues’.
“It’s in all our interests to ensure that we continue to provide a respectful and qualitative environment that enables all stakeholders to do their job to their best ability, without impacting their health, and for the good of the sport,” Bowler wrote.
The WTA told ESPN it could not comment on a specific player but stated that it ‘has provided staff dedicated to the mental health of WTA athletes for more than 20 years’, including a mental health care provider, in person, at tournaments, and tele-health sessions between tournaments upon request.
The WTA said it also provides resources and support across four primary areas of need, including: “1) Mental Health Consultation, Support and Referrals; 2) Mental Performance Skills; 3) Tour Life Skills Development and Strategies; and 4) Critical Incident Management/Safeguarding Support.”
Ironically, two-times Wimbledon champions Petra Kvitova withdrew from Roland Garros on Tuesday, after suffering a freak injury while performing her post-match media duties on Sunday.
“It’s incredibly bad luck,” Kvitova said on Twitter. “During my post-match press requirements I fell and hurt my ankle.”
Meanwhile, two other top Czechs also picked up challenging opening-round wins late on Tuesday.
First, No 9 seed Karolina Pliskova defeated one of the top-ranked unseeded players in the field, edging Donna Vekic from Croatia, 7-5 6-4.
Pliskova came into their meeting with a 3-1 head-to-head lead, although the pair had never faced off on clay.
Nevertheless, Pliskova continued to hold the upper hand in their rivalry as she picked up the 96-minute win.
Very little separated the pair in either set, but it was former World No 1 who stepped up when it mattered most, breaking Vekic in the penultimate game of both sets before confidently following up with easy holds.
Vekic still put up a valiant showing against a Top 10 player, in her first match since undergoing surgery on her right knee following the Australian Open.
Pliskova’s 8 aces helped her win 85 percent of her first-service points, as the 2017 Roland Garros semi-finalist knocked off the World No 35.
Up next for Pliskova is Sloane Stephens after the American beat Carla Suarez Navarro from Spain in the night session match, 3-6 7-6(4) 6-4.
Pliskova’s compatriot, No 18 seed Karolina Muchova, joined her in the second round, but Muchova had to execute a comeback against former Top 10 player Andrea Petkovic of Germany before triumphing 1-6 6-3 6-4.
Muchova needed all of her 41 winners to recover from being dispatched in the first set and fight back for the 2 hour 10 minute win.
Seeking her first-ever trip to the third round of Roland Garros, Muchova will next play American qualifier Varvara Lepchenko, who stormed past Zhang Shuai of China, 6- 6-3.
Meanwhile, American Jennifer Brady, the No 13 seed, also advanced, beating Anastasija Sevastova from Latvia, 6-3 6-3.
Brady had not played since withdrawing from the second round of Rome due to a foot injury in the same week that she announced her split from coach Michael Geserer.
The American has given Geserer plenty of credit for her surge in results over the past two years, which culminated in a run to her first Grand Slam final at the Australian Open in February.
In a first encounter with Sevastova, Brady was rock-solid, striking 21 winners to 20 unforced errors, winning 10 of 13 points at net and, after losing her serve in a marathon opening game, was never broken again.
“I felt like, basically, what I would want or ask from him wouldn’t be what he would want to do,” she said, opening up on her split with Geserer. “It was nothing bad – I just felt like maybe it ran its course, and I didn’t want to start to disrespect him on court or, kind of, ignore him or not listen to what he had to say.
“So I felt like it was time to just end it before I got to that point.
“Like I said before, what I would want or expect from him wouldn’t be fair to him, so I think, considering the circumstances, things ended pretty well. I mean, if I saw him, it wouldn’t be awkward or weird or anything.”
In Paris, Brady is working with Brad Stine, who also coaches ATP World No 52 Tommy Paul.
“We’ll share him at combined events,” she said. “I know Brad really well. He was at the USTA when I was at the USTA. We don’t have to really make any small talk or any awkward first impressions.”
Brady’s next opponent will be French No 1 Fiona Ferro, who edged qualifier Liang En-Shuo from Taipei in a 6-1 1-6 6-4 rollercoaster.
After dominating the first set in the opening match on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, Ferro fell apart in the second, tallying just 1 winner to 17 unforced errors.
Liang, the 2018 Australian Open girls’ champion making her Grand Slam main draw debut, played her own role in a third set that went down to the wire.
The World No 297 had not lost a set in qualifying, and showed why as she took charge of rallies with her heavy forehand.
Liang, 20, fired 26 winners to Ferro’s 13 in total, but serving to stay in the match, a handful of inopportune errors let her down to let Ferro through.
Another Frenchwoman, Kristina Mladenovic, served up a bagel en route to beating Slovakian qualifier Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, 6-4 6-0, on Court Simonne Mathieu.
Mladenovic sent down 26 winners, but will have to improve on her 35 unforced errors if she is to equal her previous best result of reaching the quarter-finals of her home Grand Slam four years ago.