Tennis players discuss mental health issues raised by Naomi Osaka

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In this file photo from May 2, 2021, Naomi Osaka of Japan reacts during her match against Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic at the Madrid Open tennis tournament in Madrid, Spain. (AP Photo / Paul White)

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) – Naomi Osaka was not the first professional tennis player to step down at a Grand Slam tournament due to mental health issues – and she likely won’t be the last.

Others may not always be as blunt as Osaka used to be.

“There have been a lot of players who have had mental health issues whether you know it or not,” said United States Davis Cup captain Mardy Fish, who has retired from the US. Open 2012 when he had a panic attack before he was supposed to. facing Roger Federer. “I’ve spoken to a lot of players over the past eight or nine years that you’ve heard of… who have struggled with this stuff.”

In video or phone interviews during Wimbledon, which ends Sunday, and the French Open, which ended in June, current and former players said they believe their sport could be particularly prone to problems. such as stress, anxiety and depression.

It is, after all, primarily a solo sport with a traveling lifestyle, no guaranteed pay, and constant judgments (usually the latter, of course, for most players) based on results and rankings.

There are no teammates to rely on. There are no days off for “load management”. Players can’t even get in-match coaching in most tournaments.

“If you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, if you’re not feeling well, there’s no ‘Hey I’m not gonna play this game today’,” said Fish, who reached number 7 in the standings, made three quarterfinals of the Slam and won an Olympic silver medal. “And you have to go through it all on your own.”

It has grown in recent times because of the pandemic.

“I keep a lot of things to myself, and over time it can just create a big snowball. And then at some point you kind of explode, and you’re like, ‘Whoa. Where does it come from? ‘”said Jennifer Brady, a 26-year-old Pennsylvania who finished second to Osaka at the Australian Open.

Osaka, who won four Grand Slam titles, drew attention to the subject at the end of May, when she withdrew from Roland Garros ahead of the second round, saying she had “huge waves of anxiety “before speaking to the media and that she had” suffered from long periods of depression. ” She also missed Wimbledon; she will be back for the Olympics.

His is not an isolated example, and that sort of thing is not limited to tennis. Athletes from various sports discussed their own experiences, including Olympians Michael Phelps and Gracie Gold, Dak Prescott of the NFL, Kevin Love of the NBA and Bubba Wallace of NASCAR.

“We’ve been talking about it forever,” said Becky Ahlgren Bedics, vice president of mental health and wellness for the WTA, on the women’s tennis tour. “Every time an athlete shares with us, or shares with the world, their experience, we can learn something from it, especially if we are listening. And we certainly are listening.”

At Wimbledon and most tournaments, the WTA provides an on-site clinician so players can request 30- or 60-minute sessions. Also available any day, anytime: video or phone conversations.

The WTA’s Comprehensive Wellness Program began in the 1990s. Last year, the ATP Men’s Tour announced a partnership with a company providing access to therapists.

Some players travel with their own mental coach. Others speak regularly or occasionally with one of them.

Still others say they are looking for a conversation with someone they know well, such as a coach or personal trainer.

“I’m someone who has suffered from anxiety since my father passed away, to the point that I couldn’t leave the house anymore.… But I got help,” said Steve Johnson, a 31-year-old Californian. years old who was the 2011-12 NCAA Singles Champion for USC. “I talk to a therapist quite frequently. It’s not a weakness. You have no idea what someone is going through unless you ask them.”

Whether the concerns are personal or professional, they exist, as in any living environment.

That’s why last year’s Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek is traveling with a sports psychologist. That’s why this year’s Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova needed her psychologist to dissuade her from a panic attack that left her scared to leave the locker room.

“There’s a lot of pressure. I felt it when I was world No.20. I felt it when I broke my ankle and came back and had some (ranked) points to defend and people expected me to achieve the same results as before and I was not, “said Mihaela Buzarnescu, a 33-year-old Romanian player.

Jamie Murray, a 35-year-old Scotsman with five Grand Slam titles in men’s or mixed doubles and older brother of three-time major champion Andy, said restrictions imposed due to the pandemic had weighed him down.

“We’ve basically gone from bubble to bubble to bubble, all over the world. And there is no escape in tennis. You play a game, let’s say you lose – it’s all the more difficult when you Lose yourself go back to the hotel. Small hotel room, four walls. Sometimes you don’t have fresh air, because you can’t open your windows. And you just sit there. And the game is right here, like this, ”Murray said, his hand in front of his face.

During Wimbledon, all players stayed in one hotel, instead of being able to rent private homes to stay with family or friends. British players could not stay at home. No one can leave the hotel, except to go to the tournament site.

In Paris, players were entitled to one hour of free time per day. At the Australian Open in February, players could not leave their hotel rooms at all for two weeks if someone on their flight tested positive for COVID-19.

“It’s a fragile time in everyone’s life. This bubble stuff – you can’t take into account how much it weighs on each person,” said Reilly Opelka, 23, who is the man. top ranked American. “When you’re in a bad state of mind it can get dark and it’s scary. It really is. It’s scary.”


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