Match Points #31: Has Naomi Osaka’s career gone off the rails?

In episode 31 of Match Points, Marion Bartoli, Carole Bouchard and Simon Cambers discuss what the Japanese can do to get her career back on track

August 23, 2021

In the latest episode of Match Points, our guests Marion Bartoli, Carole Bouchard and Simon Cambers discuss Naomi Osaka, the Japanese who has won four Grand Slam titles but who has made public her mental health issues.

Osaka won her fourth Slam title in Melbourne earlier this year, but pulled out after one match of the French Open and then missed Wimbledon entirely, explaining that she struggles to deal with doing press conferences.

What does Naomi Osaka need to do to recover?

Host Josh Cohen asks the panel whether, in spite of her success, Osaka’s career has “gone off the rails”.

Bouchard says Osaka has plenty of time to sort herself out.

I don’t think she’s gone off the rails. I think maybe that’s what is needed for her to be sure she’s doing what she loves. I think she needed a break, obviously. She needs to be happy on the court. I think it’s more complicated a season than I foresaw after Australia, but she needs two or three complicated seasons before she’s off the rails. Maybe it’ll be a silver lining for her; maybe she has to go down to come up.”

Naomi Osaka, Australian Open 2021
ICON SMI / PANORAMIC

Bartoli believes Osaka is learning to deal with success and failure.

“I think she just needs to figure out a way to bounce back better from defeat,” Bartoli says. “It’s a problem when you have so much success early on, you’re used to it. Now she’s a global superstar and then when you have a defeat in regular tournaments, you take it differently, it puts you down a lot more than a tennis match loss should put you down. She’s very young. She just needs to figure out a few pieces in the puzzle.”

Bouchard says Osaka’s team need to protect her a little more, saying no to invitations more often than in the past. She needs to be told, you don’t have to be this way.

Cambers says the situation surrounding Osaka has helped people understand mental health more than in the past, but agrees that her entourage need to help her.

“She maybe needs a sports psychologist. I don’t know who is driving all the brands she has; it is her, does she want to be the richest person in the world, is it her management team, is it her parents, her family? She needs to take stock of where she is and take control a little more. Maybe she’ll do that. Fingers crossed.”

Daniil Medvedev
Daniil Medvedev feels the heat in Tokyo Imago / Panoramic

Should the Tours’ heat rules be tightened up?

Cohen then asks the panel whether tennis needs a stricter heat policy, after many players at the Olympics in Tokyo suffered problems in the heat, and where matches were even put back to later in the day to avoid the hottest part of the day.

“Of course,” Bartoli said. “Because a lot of the people who are dealing with scheduling or anything related, they have never played, or they forget how it used to be on the court. I think it would be very useful who have some players who have (recently) retired (to help).

Bouchard pointed out that the WTA has a heat rule, but the ATP does not.

“Is that difficult to make one heat poolicy for tjhe whole Tour. And can we please start to listen to what the players are saying to how their bodies are reacting. When they say, I can’t play in his heat….maybe listen.”

Cambers says the Tours need to move away from its traditional, arcane thinking.

“I think the ATP in particular is stuck in this thought of “tennis is a survival of the fittest” and that’s just not true. Some players are more susceptible to cramping, for example, it’s not a fitness thing, it’s not about training any less. It’s just the way they’re physiologically put together. I think there should be a rule across the board.”

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