MELBOURNE / PARIS: Waves of anxiety described by Naomi Osaka before heading to a post-match press conference may be familiar to Roland Garros finalist Sofia Kenin, whose heart-wrenching exit from the French Open Australia was unveiled on cameras in February.
American Kenin, a year younger than Osaka, apparently had the world at her feet when she arrived in Melbourne to defend her title just months after reaching her second Grand Slam final at Roland Garros.
Behind the scenes, however, the 2020 WTA Player of the Year was on shaky ground.
Weeks after his split from his management, Kenin was locked in a hotel room for two weeks as players completed Australia’s strict COVID-19 quarantine protocols before the Grand Slam.
Once back on the pitch, the cracks appeared when she cried during the Yarra Classic tournament after a 6-2 6-2 loss to Garbine Muguruza, a rematch of their Australian Open final of the year. previous.
She kicked off her Australian Open defense with a painstaking first round victory over Maddison Inglis, the local wild card, crying before, during and after the game.
She finally collapsed in the next match against Kaia Kanepi because “her nerves really hit her”.
If anyone deserved a pass from the mandatory post-game press conference, the distraught Kenin surely would have had a case.
Still, around an hour after the loss, she stoically entered the windowless media conference room in Melbourne Park to answer questions from on-site reporters and others connected by video conference around the world.
“I have the impression that everyone is always asking me, ‘Would you like? Do you see yourself going (to Melbourne) and winning again? “” she said.
“Obviously I said yes. With the way I play, no.”
She then burst into tears.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
Osaka’s press boycott, followed by his withdrawal from Roland Garros on Monday, has put the media under a microscope and sparked Grand Slam criticism that threatens fines of up to US $ 20,000 if players skip conferences compulsory press releases.
Players can withdraw without fear of penalty if injured or “physically unable to show up”, but there is no provision for mental strain, a gray area made more murky with the emotional toll of a disappointing loss.
Players rallied around Osaka with messages of support after she revealed her mental health battles on Monday, but none have gone so far as to publicly support her press boycott or berating the Grand Slam for to have straddled the rules.
“It’s certainly not easy. I mean, that’s what you signed up for. It’s sport. There are expectations from the outside, from the sponsors and from everyone,” he said. Kenin said on Monday.
“You just have to manage it somehow. You have to have a good team around you supporting you. You know they’re with you. Everything you say is for them, and that’s for them. is all. They will always support you and have your back. “
Some players, perhaps surprisingly given the agony of facing reporters after a poor performance, defended the process as “part of the job” and credited the media with raising the profile of the game.
“Grand Slam tournaments are protecting themselves and their own affairs. Of course, they are going to follow the rules and they are going to make sure you comply with them,” said world number one Novak Djokovic.
Much more for the benefit of the tennis-loving public than the main players on the court, some players admit to appreciating verbal exchanges with the media.
Roger Federer said his coaches were watching his press conferences to better understand his state of mind.
Others, like Australian hotshot Nick Kyrgios, cannot stand them and dismiss questions with contempt.
Venus Williams, a veteran of more than two decades of post-game media, is galvanized by her record of 49 titles, including seven Grand Slam singles crowns.
“For me personally, the way I manage is that I know that every person who asks me a question can’t play as well as I do and never will,” said the 40-year-old after her release at first round of Roland Garros. .
“So no matter what you say or what you write, you will never light a candle for me.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne and Julien Pretot in Paris; Editing by Toby Davis)