Well, it looks like the tennis world has found its Meghan Markle. Naomi Osaka, who may in theory be Japanese, but is to all intents and purposes Californian when it comes to worldview, will no longer be taking part in the French Open because she can’t handle the post match interviews, especially when she loses. She wants to go away and look after her mental health. It’s rough luck on other Japanese tennis players (and maybe the Japan Olympic team), on her sponsors (is she too shy to do endorsements too, the ones she’s getting tens of millions of dollars for?) and on the tournament organizers. But nowadays when you say you’ve got mental health issues, there’s no arguing with that.
Except, of course, there is. Step forward Boris Becker, who of all people should know what it’s like to get a bit of a drubbing from the press, in his case less on account of his playing than his home life and tax affairs. He’s opined that ‘I always believed the media was part of the job. Without the media, there is no prize money, no contracts, you don’t get half the cake. I hated the media and I didn’t like talking to journalists but you had to do it. Now she is pulling out of the tournament altogether because she can’t cope with it and that raises much bigger questions for me. If she can’t cope with the media in Paris, she can’t cope with the media in Wimbledon or the US Open.’ Well, quite so.
Good God, it’s not as though the tennis press are scary. They’re a bunch of pussycats by comparison with the political journos. Osaka’s sister says she hates anyone intimating that she is rubbish playing on clay — and of course that must be hurtful. But you can always open up about these things in a good way. Lovely Annabel Croft, player-turned-commentator, says Naomi was indeed painfully shy to begin with but has turned into rather an interesting interviewee. And you can, you know, always do an Andy Murray — he used to be like Coriolanus being interviewed by the plebs — and say what you think in the way you want to say it. He was never effusive but he did, eventually, open up.
You may well think, what’s the bother? The woman is where she is on account of her tennis, not her skill as interviewee. And that’s very true. But in this fallen world, tennis tournaments are commercial affairs — and one way you generate the publicity is by making the stars accessible, discussing their play and their opponent’s play. It’s not asking a lot. The questions are like very easy balls — you can bat them away with practice. But crying mental health and running away, is, I’d have thought, ungracious as well as infuriating. In her tweet she paid tribute to the nice journalists she encountered. After all this, she’ll be handled like bone china.
But she’s no shrinking violet. On issues like Black Lives Matter, she’s quite prepared to sound off on Twitter. Well, if you can do social media you can do real media. Otherwise, sayonara, Naomi.