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Osaka's mental health struggles nothing new for tennis

On the eve of this U.S. Open, Osaka spoke of trying to find a new approach to life and tennis, but it is clear that those efforts remain a work in progressGETTY IMAGES

Naomi Osaka's decision to step away from tennis following her loss at the U.S. Open on Friday night "resonated with nearly every player who has ever picked up a racket, and especially those who have reached the pinnacle of tennis," as Osaka's struggles are a "sadly familiar script for the sport," according to Matthew Futterman of the N.Y. TIMES. Careers cut short "because of broken minds rather than aging bodies haunt tennis like ghosts." Eleven-time Grand Slam winner Bjorn Borg "walked off the court" at 25 after his U.S. Open loss in '81, "drove away in his car, and never played another Grand Slam tournament again." Steffi Graf, the winner of 22 Grand Slam singles titles, "quit at 30, just weeks after a French Open title and a Wimbledon final, saying she had lost her motivation and passion for the game." Andre Agassi and Jennifer Capriati "succumbed to drug abuse," though they "managed to mount comebacks." The pandemic has added "another kind of loneliness" for tennis players (N.Y. TIMES, 9/6).

STUNNING TURN: In N.Y., Christopher Clarey wrote this was "never the way it was supposed to go for Naomi Osaka, the biggest new star in tennis, whose fame, reach and success appeared to have no limits at the start of the year." She is the "world’s highest-paid female athlete, one of the biggest celebrities in sports, and a quiet, powerful embodiment of a new generation of athletes who are unafraid to share their views on civil rights and social justice." Just weeks ago, Osaka "received one of the highest honors in all of sports -- lighting the cauldron at the Olympic Games in her home country, where she has come to represent a new, multiracial future for Japan." On the eve of this U.S. Open, Osaka "spoke of trying to find a new approach to life and tennis that centered on not beating herself up when things did not go perfectly and on celebrating small victories, even just getting out of bed in the morning." After Friday night, it is "clear that those efforts remain a work in progress" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/4).

ADVANCING THE CONVERSATION: On Long Island, Barbara Barker asked, "How could a player who appears to have everything -- fame, money, incredible talent, world popularity -- be so unhappy? Why would she want to walk away from it all at the peak of her career?" The answer: "Mental illness does not discriminate. Male, female, old, young, rich, poor, famous and obscure." That was "hammered home at the Olympics" when Simone Biles decided to drop out of the all-around competition (NEWSDAY, 9/5). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Jason Gay wrote Osaka's struggles feel "significant in how she’s processing it in real time, letting the public in on her anxieties and continuing a broader conversation about sports and mental health." Her "vulnerability has struck a chord, especially with younger generations." Osaka has "never been more scrutinized." She also has "never been more popular" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/5).

END FOR OSAKA? ESPN.com's Kevin Van Valkenburg wrote Osaka's post-match press conference on Friday was a "stunning moment, and it might take on extra weight in the coming months -- and years -- if Osaka never plays professional tennis again." This" isn't the first time Osaka has announced she needed to take a break from the sport." But this "felt different." Van Valkenburg: "Sitting in the room, I wondered whether I had just listened to a retirement speech" (ESPN.com, 9/4). Fox Sports' Emmanuel Acho said it was “hard to watch” Osaka’s post-match press conference because she is “clearly going through a ton.” Acho: “I'm not convinced you could be fully committed to media, or social media, and be fully committed to success in life. ... It’s hard to be a global superstar in this day in age” (“Speak For Yourself,” FS1, 9/6).

STEPHENS SPEAKS OUT: In N.Y., Mark Sanchez wrote American tennis player Sloane Stephens is "exhausted ... from the abuse and hateful words she received online after her loss" at the U.S. Open on Saturday. Stephens shared "vile messages she received," with some "wishing for her to be raped." There also were "racist terms" and "threats." On Saturday, Stephens posted on Instagram, “This isn’t talked about enough, but it really freaking sucks" (N.Y. POST, 9/5). USA Today’s Christine Brennan: “Let's hear it for these wonderful role models, especially Naomi Osaka and now Sloane Stephens, speaking up, discussing these issues in public. They're still in their 20’s, they’re still very young, and for them to have the courage and the will to bring this up and to fight this and to talk about it, I think is so admirable” (“GMA,” ABC, 9/6).

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