Naomi Osaka defeats Boomers in straight sets
Shot heard ‘round the tennis world
Thank the tennis gods:
When top champ Naomi Osaka pulled out of the French Open press conference and tournament, she supplanted Donald Trump as the perfect litmus test of who we.
Respecting Osaka’s decisions, especially the courage of her openness about the stress, depression and anxiety of doing the post-match pressers (which are a charade stupide, as the French might put it) suggests you’re a decent person. The type sickened by Trump.
Trashing Osaka suggests you have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile, Mr. Grinch. Perhaps your heart’s an empty hole full of unwashed socks, your brain is full of spiders, and your soul is full of garlic and gunk. The type that loves Trump.
The initial tut-tutting by Osaka’s Boomer elders does not suggest the better angels of our nature.
“A phenomenal error,” France Tennis Federation president Gilles Moretton sniffed.
“They understood the assignment,” French Open officials schooled her, tweeting photos of dutiful players doing pressers.
Pioneers of women’s tennis initially piled on. “As professional athletes, we have the responsibility to make ourselves available to the press,” Billie Jean King lectured. Martina Navratilova told Osaka to “woman up.” (“Grow a pair” would have been confusing.)
Chris Evert condescended that today’s young tennis stars can’t seem to handle tough questions like she did as a young star, channeling Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man (“In my day, we didn’t have safety standards for toys. We got rusty nails and big bags of broken glass! That’s the way it was, and we liked it!”).
Later when Osaka explained her depression and social anxiety, King, Navratilova, Evert and other critics channeled Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella — “never mind!” — as they walked back or deleted their haughty talk.
Not so the Brits, who you’d think would seize any chance to tweak the French but instead got their best British snit going in huffy high dudgeon.
“Diva behavior,” sneered Oliver Brown, lead sportswriter for the right-wing, Boris Johnson-suckling Telegraph.
Osaka is “world sport’s most petulant little madam … narcissistic … an arrogant spoiled brat whose fame and fortune appears to have inflated her ego to gigantic proportions,” sputtered Piers Morgan.
(If you don’t know Morgan, he’s a petulant little madam, a narcissistic, arrogant, gigantic inflated-ego British telly “personality.” He’s the dying kingdom’s answer to Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and the worst of Fox & Fiends ground together like pork plant floor sweepings and stuffed into a greasy fat banger.)
My favorite Boomer teaching moment for Osaka: “She has got this completely wrong,” as her role is more than “just hitting tennis balls.”
This from former Brit tennis player now broadcaster, Andrew Castle, 57, whose tennis career high was 80th in the world 33 years ago. (For reference, the 80th today is Brazil’s Tiago Monteiro.)
Needless to say, Castle would have sweetly fondled the bollocks of the press to get any attention in his day, and Osaka probably could have kicked his arse.
As a former journalist and wool-dyed defender of the professional press, I embrace all the yadda-yadda about how tennis greats need to feed the press that feeds them to support the sport that supports them.
I get the symbiosis.
But I’m not like a helicopter parent who defends his beloved right or wrong. The tennis press includes many flatulent bloviators that barely know tennis from pickleball.
So have some pity for their “self-owning” questions.
After a phenomenal Grand Slam battle and heartbreaking loss, Osaka was asked: “Do you think because you’re younger, it can be difficult to be consistent at this age? How do you go about restoring your confidence after this?” We all love to be asked why we lost.
Another time she was asked how “Japanese” she is, since she has a Haitian father.
Former ESPN now Fox Sports reporter Tony Rinaldi asked, what’s the message behind your George Floyd and other activist masks? She replied, “Well, ‘What was the message that you got?’ is more the question,” instead of replying “DUH!” with a killer eye-roll.
Speculation has it that Osaka declined the French presser in part after fellow player Coco Gauff was asked this gem: “You’re often compared to the Williams sisters. Maybe because you’re Black. But I guess it’s because you’re talented and maybe American too.”
I can’t imagine the tennis press, in its slack-jawed awe, lobbing equally insulting and idiotic questions at Roger Federer.
Like when Federer pulled out of the French Open to save his knees for Wimbledon: “Do you think because you’re older, it can be difficult to be consistent at this age? How do you go about restoring your confidence after this?”
Or, “You’re often compared to Rod Laver or Bjorn Borg. Maybe because you’re White. But I guess you’re talented and maybe Swiss too.”
Or, “What’s the message behind not wearing a George Floyd and other activist masks?”
Let’s not forget the obvious: The $6 billion tennis economy, from tournaments to equipment makers to the tennis media, wouldn’t exist without the players.
And the players aren’t all prima donna multimillionaires. Tennis is “a sport that leaves even elite athletes taking second jobs,” Bloomberg Businessweek reported in a story about how Novak Djokovic and other players are banding together to urge “executives who run the sport to take players’ concerns more seriously.”
That starts with respecting, not denigrating, players for their human fears, failings and foibles.
Like when the 2018 Washington, DC, Citi Open director lectured Andy Murray after he broke down in tears from exhaustion and pain, and hinted he might need to withdraw from the tournament, following a grueling match that started at midnight and didn’t end until his win at 3 a.m.
“Finishing matches at 3 in the morning is not good. It’s not good for the players,” he said. “As someone who’s just come back from a very, very long injury lay-off, I don’t think I should be put in a position like that when you’re expected to come out and perform the next day.”
Citi Open director Keely O’Brien, a Washington Business Journal “40 under 40” wunderkind sports manager with no playing experience, told Murray to suck it up.
“I hope that Andy really takes into consideration this role in his sport,” she said, “and as a global role model to guys and girls on the tour and kids around the world that, when things are difficult and tough and the conditions aren’t great, it’s not okay to just give up.”
Murray withdrew anyway.
Belinda Bencic (#11) snarked that top rival Osaka (#2) pulled out of the French Open press conference as a sly strategy to get more press.
“Naomi does a lot of good things,” Bencic said. “On the other hand, I feel like sometimes it’s just about to remain in the talk.”
Doubtful, but if so, well played, Osaka. You’re using the press better than it tries to use you.
Intentional or not, you’re teaching the mostly wealthy, White, Western, phallocratic Boomer tennis establishment and press that players are not simply a market commodity to leverage as a money machine. Tennis and its bounty would wither and die without the players who fight every day for the game.
To edit Teddy Roosevelt, “It is not the critic who counts; not the one who points out how the strong woman stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the woman who is actually in the arena.”
Play on, Osaka.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer