After writing about Amanda Anisimova’s decision to put tennis on pause and take better care of her mental health, I wanted to keep the conversation going on how stress and depression can affect professional tennis players.
Grand Slam champions Bianca Andreescu and Naomi Osaka both faced the tremendous challenge of navigating especially difficult periods in their lives when they couldn’t perform on the court because of how overwhelmed they felt off the court.
As I mentioned last week, Tennis Canada is taking the lead when it comes to building awareness, and the vital importance of being attuned to one’s mind and body really can’t be overstated.
The WTA is also spearheading its own initiatives.
Since 1949, May has been Mental Health Awareness Month in the US, and there was no better time for the women’s tour and its mental health partner Modern Health to launch the second edition of their Real Me campaign.
On May 10, they released the first of three video segments featuring 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, who took a six-month break in the 2021–22 season.
“Looking back now, I know that I didn’t have enough love for myself outside of being a tennis player. I felt that I was so much basing myself worth on results,” she explains in the first few minutes.
“At the time, I didn’t have no idea because I’ve never really felt that way ever in my life, so I was confused, shocked, overwhelmed. I had no idea what to do. Literally, as harsh as it sounds, I wanted to quit the sport. I had no love for the game, whatsoever. Then, at that point is when I took my break. My mental break.”
In the four-minute clip, Bianca spends time with her mom and shares how important her family is to her. She talks about where she comes from and how her parents have been totally involved and sacrificed so much since she first picked up a racquet at the age of seven.
There are shots of her training and of Bianca and her mother watching footage of her playing tennis as a child over avocado and tomato sandwiches.
Of all the players who’ve shared what they went through, none have had a more significant impact that Naomi Osaka, whose withdrawal from the 2021 French Open helped set many of the awareness-building efforts in motion.
And that’s likely the reason why her image features prominently on Modern Health’s website.
In addition to Bianca and Naomi, several others players agreed to be part of the campaign.
A few months after cementing their partnership in 2022, the WTA and Modern Health launched the first of The Real Me episodes with Paula Badosa, Danielle Collins, Sloane Stephens, Maria Sakkari and Canada’s own Leylah Fernandez.
Thanks to open and inclusive programs, what was unthinkable just a few years ago will become the norm.
Now, players who aren’t in the right headspace won’t feel so compelled to perform at the expense of their mental health simply to avoid disappointing their teams or their fans.
And they’ll put themselves first.
MOTHERHOOD FOR NAOMI OSAKA
Meanwhile, Naomi Osaka is preparing for her greatest challenge yet: motherhood.
After being away from the game since September 2022, she withdrew from the 2023 AO and, three days later, shared the happy news that she and her partner Cordae were expecting a baby.
The four-time Grand Slam champion will always be the target of criticism, but that hasn’t stopped her from politely clapping back at her detractors like she did on May 12, when commentors on Twitter starting questioning whether she’d be able to regain her form.
Despite what some may say, she recently explained why she plans on coming back to tennis after she’s had the baby.
In an interview on May 11 with Elise Solé on Today.com, Naomi said she was more excited to play in front of her child than millions of spectators.
“I’m most excited about being able to have a kid in the stands watching me play tennis and them being able to say ‘Hey, that’s my mom on the court’. I think that moment will be surreal and I really look forward to the day it actually happens,” she said.
As for the flamboyant Naomi who loves red carpets, social events and spectacular outfits, she should be back, too.
More radiant than ever.
Just as she was on the cover of Vogue Hong Kong almost two years ago.