Former British tennis star Tim Henman says Naomi Osaka’s bravery in opening up about her mental struggle will help improve the way tennis handles player welfare in the future.
The world number two has been vocal in revealing her troubles with anxiety and took a period of absence away from the game, which saw her withdraw from the French Open and miss Wimbledon.
After returning for the Tokyo Olympics in her home country, the Japanese star could only reach the third round and admitted the whole situation was “a bit much” for her to handle.
Speaking to GiveMeSport Women, Henman stressed that Osaka’s public admittance of her mental troubles has helped raise awareness to a large audience and could inspire others to open up in the same way.
“I think it’s been such an important conversation when you consider what the world has gone through in the last 18 months,” he said.
“It’s been massively challenging and mental health and wellbeing is at the forefront, so when you get such a high profile athlete who is honest enough and brave enough to come forward and talk about her challenges, I think it helps an enormous amount of people.”
Henman also recalled how mental health struggles were perceived during his era when players’ problems were not taken seriously.
“When I started out my career 25 years ago, you were told to get on with it. It was under that mantra of toughen up and tough it out and I don’t think that’s the best way of dealing with these things.”
Despite the issues she’s faced in recent times, Osaka is now faced with the prospect of trying to defend her US Open title.
While the 23-year-old is likely to be cheered on by a sold-out Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, her recent performances have shown she is some way off her imperious best.
Asked about Osaka’s chances of winning a fifth Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows this year, Henman conceded it would be tough given the circumstances.
“I think it’s fair to say it’s going to be very challenging for her. There’s been a lot of noise away from the court surrounding the sport and I’m sure it’s been very challenging and pretty tiring.
“And it’s probably reflected on her performance on the court because she really hasn’t played her best tennis.”
However, the former world number four also reiterated the talent of Osaka and emphasised that despite being out of form, she has more than enough talent to turn things around.
“For me, she’s just far too good a player to write off and I think it adds to the intrigue of the women’s event in New York because I can give you a pretty long list of players who I think have a genuine chance of lifting the title.”
Indeed, with less than a week until the main draw gets underway, this year’s tournament is wide open. Osaka’s rival Ashleigh Barty will start as the favourite, but as we have become accustomed to seeing in the women’s game –– anything can happen.
The US Open is available to watch live exclusively on Amazon Prime Video from Monday 30th August through to Sunday 12 September.News Now - Sport News