Naomi Osaka wasn’t the first professional tennis player who had to withdraw from a Grand Slam tournament due to mental health issues. Osaka might not be as forthright as others.
“I’m certain there are quite a few people who are struggling. Mardy Fish, the U.S. Davis Cup captain, said that there were more people struggling than we realize. He pulled out of U.S. Open 2012 after suffering panic attacks just before Roger Federer was due to face him. There have been many players who have suffered from mental health problems, regardless of whether they are aware. Over the past eight to nine years, I’ve spoken with many players — college players, up-and-coming and experienced players — who have had to deal with this type of thing. It’s a common problem in sports, and it is certainly an issue in this particular sport.
Current and former players expressed concern that their sport is more susceptible to stress, anxiety, and depression in video and telephone interviews.
It is a mostly solo sport, with no guaranteed income and constant thumbs up-or-thumbs down (usually the latter for most players), judgments based on rankings and results.
There are no teammates to lean on. There is no time for load management. Most tournaments don’t allow players to get in-match coaching.
Fish, who reached No. 7, who reached the quarterfinals of three Slams and was awarded an Olympic silver medal, was 7th in the rankings. “And you have to trek it all alone.”
The pandemic has made it worse.
Sometimes it is not prioritized. Sometimes, it’s the last thing you think about. The mind is crucial, especially for tennis. “… We travel so often and are alone, so it can really affect you mentally,” Jennifer Brady, a 26 year-old Pennsylvanian who finished second to Osaka at February’s Australian Open and is currently on the U.S. Team for the Tokyo Games.
“I keep quite a few things to myself and it can create a huge snowball. Then, suddenly, everything seems to explode and you feel like you are in a panic. Brady uses a sports psychologist to explain how it all happened. “And there’s always an breaking point for everybody.”
Osaka raised the issue in May when she pulled out from the French Open. She said she had “huge waves” of anxiety before speaking to media, and that she has suffered “long bouts of depression”. Her return to the Olympics is planned for two weeks. Osaka will be playing in zero fans in a Japan-wide emergency.
23-year-old Osaka has won four Grand Slam titles and been ranked No. Osaka, 23, is the highest-earning female athlete in the world.
She wrote in an essay for Time magazine that she hoped “we could enact measures to safeguard athletes, especially fragile ones” and added: “Each one of us, humans, is going though something on some level.”
This isn’t an isolated case, and it is not just about tennis. Many athletes from different sports have shared their experiences with us, including Olympians Michael Phelps, Gracie Gold and the NFL’s Dak Prescott.
Becky Ahlgren Bedics is the vice president for mental health and wellbeing at the WTA, the women’s tennis tour. “When an athlete shares their experience with us or the world, it can help us all to learn from it, especially if you’re listening.” We are certainly listening.
Wimbledon and other tournaments offer a clinician on-site so that players can request sessions of 30- or 60 minutes. Video and phone conversations are also available at any hour of the day.
WTA’s holistic wellness program, which focuses on prevention, education, and awareness of services, was launched in the 1990s.
Ahlgren Bedics stated that athletes use them extensively, across all rankings. Who is more likely to use them? There are both new and old athletes on the tour, as well as those who have been around for a while and are more like our veterans.”
(Last year, ATP men’s tour announced a partnership to a company that provides access to therapists. Fish replied “No” when asked if the ATP had such support systems for him when he was playing. (“There were none.”)
Some players travel with a mental coach. Some players speak with their coach regularly, or only occasionally.
Others say they are open to having a conversation with a coach, a personal trainer, or another person they trust.
“I have anxiety issues that I’ve dealt with since the death of my father. It got to the point that I couldn’t leave my house. My life would spiral out of control, and I’d be playing matches. My mom and others around me begged me to get help. But I was the one who said, “Eh, what? It’s fine. Yada, yada, yada. But I got help,” Steve Johnson, a 31 year-old Californian who was the NCAA singles champion for USC in 2011-12, said. He is currently ranked 21st. “I see a therapist quite often. It is not weakness. It’s not weakness.
They exist regardless of whether they are personal or professional.
It is why Iga Swiatek (the French Open champion last year) travels with a psychologist. Barbora Krejcikova was the French Open champion this year and needed her psychologist to help her overcome a panic attack that made her afraid to leave her locker room.
“There is a lot pressure. It was there when I was number one. It was number 20 in the world. It was when I broke my ankle. I came back with (ranking points) to defend, and people expected me have the same results as before. But I didn’t,” Mihaela Buzarnescu (33) from Romania said. She has a Ph.D. and is depressed. My ranking changed from 55 to 135 in a week. I couldn’t leave the hotel for two days.
Buzarnescu stated that the pandemic was particularly difficult because there are not enough fans. They were banned from the U.S. Open last year; Wimbledon allowed only full capacity on some courts in Week 2, and there have been restrictions on players’ movement.
Jamie Murray, a 35 year-old Scottish player with five Grand Slam titles (men’s or mixed doubles), and older brother to Andy, three-time major champion, said that he’s had enough of it.
“We’ve basically just moved from bubble to bubble and bubble to bubble all over the globe. Tennis is a constant companion. Let’s say you lose a match. It’s harder to lose when you lose. You go back to your hotel. Four walls in a small hotel room. Sometimes, you can’t open the windows and you don’t get fresh air. You’re sitting there. Murray said that the match was just here, as this, with his hand on his face. It’s played over again in your head. It’s impossible to escape it. There is no escape. It’s impossible to go out with friends for dinner.
Wimbledon saw all players stay in the same hotel. They could not rent their own homes to be with their families or friends. British players couldn’t stay at home. Except for travel to the tournament venue, no one is allowed to leave the hotel.
Sally Bolton, chief executive of All England Club, acknowledged that it was difficult for them to function in these environments for the past year.
Paris allowed players one hour per day. Players at the Australian Open in February were restricted from leaving their hotels for two weeks if a passenger on their flight was positive for COVID-19.
“This is a delicate time in every person’s life. “This bubble stuff — you don’t know how much it weighs on everyone,” stated Reilly Opelka (23-year-old) who is the highest-ranked U.S. male. It can be dark and scary when you are in a bad mood. It is. It’s terrifying.”