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Federer calls for an evolution in the relationship between tennis players and the media to help younger generation of athletes

Roger Federer of Switzerland hits a forehand during the men's quarterfinal match against Hubert Hurkacz of Poland at the Wimbledon Championships in Britain on 7 July 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / NEIL HALL)

Sports star Roger Federer says the relationship between tennis players and the media needs to evolve, and the sport must also do more to help the younger generation deal with negative comments on social media.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

The players’ mental health issue came into the spotlight after Japan’s Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open in a row with tournament officials over media duties.

Osaka said she had been suffering from depression and anxiety and that interacting with the media had sometimes had a negative impact on her.

Federer, who shares the men’s record of 20 major titles with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, said the situation needed a rethink.

“I think players, the tournaments, journalists, we need to sit down together in a room and go: ‘OK, what would work for you and what works for us…’” Federer told the British GQ magazine this week.

“We need a revolution. Or at least an evolution of where we are today.

“Even when I am feeling down, I know I need to act a certain way in front of the world’s press. We need to remember that tennis players are athletes and professionals, but we are also human too.”

The 40-year-old Swiss, who is recovering from recent knee surgery, also praised Briton Emma Raducanu’s journey to the top in the wake of the 18-year-old’s US Open triumph. Raducanu had previously come in for criticism from pundits and the media when she pulled out of her Wimbledon last-16 match due to breathing difficulties. Some said she had failed to handle the pressure.

“I was following Emma Raducanu’s incredible run in Wimbledon and also Naomi Osaka these last few years – it’s been amazing, both of their stories,” he said.

“But it hurts when you see what happens and when they don’t feel well.

“I think we do need to help, coach and mentor the younger generation more. I can’t imagine going through the beginning of my career with social media,” he added.

“For every 10 nice comments, there’s always one negative comment and, of course, that is the one you focus on. It’s a horrible situation.”

Naomi Osaka of Japan in action against Leylah Fernandez of Canada during their match on the fifth day of the US Open Tennis Championships at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, US, on 3 September 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / PETER FOLEY)

Osaka ‘itching’ to play soon

Four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka looks set to return to tennis shortly after getting “that itch” to play again. Osaka said at the US Open earlier this month that she would take a break from the game to concentrate on her mental health following a third-round defeat by Leylah Fernandez.

The former world number one, who pulled out of next month’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, has struggled for form since she withdrew from the French Open in May after a row with tournament officials over required media appearances. She said that it had a negative impact on her.

But the 23-year-old Japanese player said on HBO’s The Shop that she still loved the sport and was already looking to get back to the court.

“I know I’m going to play again, probably soon because I kind of have that itch again,” she said.

“But it wouldn’t really matter to me if I won or lost. I’d just have the joy of being back on the court.”

Osaka, who has slipped to seventh in the world rankings, said that tough matches had begun to take their toll on her and that she needed the break to refresh.

“I used to love the competition and just being competitive. If I were to play a long match, the longer it was, the more fun it was for me,” she said.

“Then I just started to feel – recently – the longer it was, the more stressed out I became. But I just needed a break to go within myself,” she said. Reuters/DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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  • About time that “a player with influence” is addressing this issue. It ought to have happened much sooner. Will be interesting for me, to follow the progress and changes that occur in the media…