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Sport

Osaka can’t escape the spotlight

Naomi Osaka with Serena Williams after winning the US Open in 2018. Julian Finney/Getty Images

Tennis ace Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open seems like “a self-defeating riddle”, says Rupert Hawksley in The Independent. The 23-year-old world No 2 announced that she would be boycotting the tournament’s press conferences because of her “social anxiety”, was fined $15,000 and reprimanded, then quit the tournament. “We wanted Osaka to talk about tennis, so she has stopped playing tennis, in order not to talk about it.” There is growing concern that she will pull out of Wimbledon if her mental health issues force her to take a long break.

The Japanese superstar has always been open about how hard she finds it to cope with the “intensity of the attention she receives”, says Louisa Thomas in The New Yorker. Osaka has struggled with depression since 2018, when she won the US Open aged 20. The crowd were supporting her opponent, Serena Williams, and booed her as she held up the trophy. She claims she doesn’t sleep during Grand Slams. In the wake of great victories, she has said that tennis had stopped being fun. It is isolating. No one likes “ham-handed” press conferences, but Osaka is eloquent about social issues, smart about the game and “disarmingly funny”. Something’s rotten, and it isn’t her.

The big-serving player is brilliant, says Piers Morgan in the Daily Mail. But she’s also an “arrogant spoiled brat”. She is the highest-paid female athlete in the world, earning $6,000 an hour, so she’ll recoup this meaningless fine in her sleep. This is a stunt “straight out of the Meghan and Harry playbook”: exploiting the media for ruthlessly commercial self-promotion, but using mental health to silence any media scrutiny.

No, this is tennis, Piers, says Marina Hyde in The Guardian. Watch the match, listen to the commentary, read the analysis and, “if there’s still something you didn’t understand, then honestly just naff off and read a children’s book instead”. And don’t get me started on tennis’s bigwigs. All four Grand Slam tournaments criticised Osaka. But they remain “utterly silent” on men’s world No 6 Alexander Zverev, months after he was accused of domestic violence and mental abuse by his ex-girlfriend. “Zverev issued a denial; and denial in any case remains tennis’s comfort zone.” No one has acted more shamefully than the Grand Slam hosts. “You’ll never see them do a press conference about that, though, so let’s not wet our pants when the mere players don’t feel able to either.”