Sunil Gavaskar: An opportunity lost for Naomi Osaka

The media, whether electronic or print, is one of the pillars of every sport. The other three are the players, the fans and the administrators – and not necessarily in that order.

There will be more than one mediaperson who will want to provoke Naomi Osaka with some awkward questions the next time she decides to play. How she handles that will be interesting to see.   -  Getty Images

The first major of the tennis calendar is the Australian Open played in January. Whoever wins that has the chance to complete the Grand Slam by winning the other three majors – the French Open at Roland Garros, The Championships at Wimbledon and the US Open at Flushing Meadows. Be it tennis or golf, it’s become extremely difficult to win all four majors in a calendar year and complete the Grand Slam. That, by the way, is the real Grand Slam, and not as some European tennis players, who are not so proficient in English, call winning a major a Grand slam. In recent times, to the best of my recollection, only Tiger Woods has held all four titles back to back but not in the same calendar year.

READ: Osaka thanks fans for 'all the love' after French Open withdrawal

The winner of the first major therefore looks forward to participating in the next one even, if in tennis it may not be on their favourite surface. Therefore, when the winner of the Australian Open pulls out of the French Open, it must be due to a very strong reason. Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open citing mental health reasons after the French Open officials fined her for not attending a media conference after her first-round win. To be fair to her, she had announced through her public media platform that she was not going to do the media conferences, which are mandatory for all participants after every match they play, win or lose in every tournament. That she felt so strongly about not doing the media conference and forfeited the chance to win the Grand Slam does say a thing or two about these conferences that the players are subjected to.

Make no mistake, the media, whether electronic or print, is one of the pillars of every sport. The other three are the players, the fans and the administrators – and not necessarily in that order. The fifth very important part of every sport, which one can call the roof of protection, are the sponsors without whom modern sport as we know it will slowly wither and die.

READ: Sponsors hail Naomi Osaka's 'courage' on mental health

For this roof of protection to cover the sport and help it grow, it must get enough coverage in the media, and for the media to cover it, the players must be very good. When the media mentions the sport, the fans start to take notice and grow, and so the sport can flourish, and so everyone needs each other.

In sport itself, the dynamics don’t change much. The players get stronger, fitter and in some cases wealthier. The equipment can change for the better and some players can bring in some innovation into playing the sport that not only adds variety and enhances the attraction, but also thereby brings more fans to the game. Cricket is a sport that has seen some amazing changes in the way it is played with some shots and some deliveries that were never seen some 15 to 20 years back. That has made the game even more of a spectacle and brought in a newer more energetic following than in the past.

Fans have changed as from simply clapping a few times as in the past, today they will stand and jump and vociferously express their approval or disappointment.   -  K. V. S. Giri

 

Fans also have changed as from simply clapping a few times as in the past, today they will stand and jump and vociferously express their approval or disappointment. Sometimes they have taken disappointment to the other extreme where they have been violent and thrown dangerous items at the players. They also come dressed in the colours of their favourite team and have their favourite players’ name and number on their shirts. Some paint their faces in the colours of their country or team they support, some come as if for a fancy dress competition, and some in a way that is sure to attract the cameras.

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The media conferences, especially at the majors, have changed too with a lot more queries being asked of the personal lives of the players rather than the sport or the game played on that particular day. That’s one of the main reasons why some can’t handle it while some have become very good at deflecting the awkward personal question and even getting laughs for their answers. Naomi Osaka felt she couldn’t take the inquiries about her prospects on the clay courts of the French Open and rather than face it has opted out of the tournament itself. What it means is that the next time she decides to play, there will be even more questions as to why, et cetera, and that won’t be easy to handle. There will be more than one mediaperson who will want to provoke her with some awkward question to get a headline-making comment. How she handles that will be interesting to see.

There are lessons for both the players and the media from this episode, but the fact of the matter is in this instance by withdrawing from the tournament, Naomi Osaka has lost the opportunity to win another major.

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