Exclusive – Judy Murray urges tennis chiefs to provide mental health aid to all players after Naomi Osaka incident

Kevin Palmer

Judy Murray has called on the sport’s professional bodies to provide more support to young players breaking through in tennis, as she suggested psychologists should be provided free of charge to help players deal with mental health issues.

In an extensive interview with Tennis365 in association with cinch, the mother of multiple Grand Slam winners Andy and Jamie Murray called for lessons to be learned from Naomi Osaka’s decision to withdraw from the French Open on mental health grounds.

Osaka confirmed she did not want to speak to the media as it affected her mental health, with Murray now making a plea to the leaders of tennis to change their approach to embrace a new generation of players who may have different demands than those who have gone before them.

“The Osaka incident maybe showed that we need to understand the generational gap between the young players wanting to influence things in their own way, rather than the old guard who ran the tournaments and organises the tour telling them what they need to do and wanting to keep things the way they have always been,” began Murray.

“A lot of talking points and issues have been raised amid this story and I hope they are addressed properly.

“Young people are trained to be tennis players, to have good forehands and backhands. They are not trained for the life and business that goes with being a top player and when you get on the tour, it can come as something of a shock.

“Not enough emphasis is put on what being a top player will bring like budgeting, accounting, dealing with sponsors, having a microphone thrust at you after a match.

“They need to do all of that and we should be bringing some of these aspects into junior tournaments in a fun and relaxed way. It is part and parcel of the game for what could come next and the tours now need to look at how they can help players to get ready for that.

Judy Murray and Kevin Palmer at The Campus
Judy Murray and Tennis365’s Kevin Palmer

“I feel like there is an obligation on national tennis federations, the tours, agents and management companies to prepare players for the life and business of being a pro player.

“The jump from the juniors to the seniors is big enough on the court. On top of that, how to handle the media, how to manage your social media, is now a massive part of it.”

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Osaka stated she would prefer to speak to her fans through her social media channels rather than via press conferences that are mandatory after each match, with Murray suspecting that view will be shared by many young players.

“Social media provides a massive opportunity to promote yourself and let your personality shine through in your own way,” she continues. “Young people now view social media as their way of getting a message across, rather than the media route that has always been the way in tennis.

“Naomi was talking about her challenges with depression, anxiety and her mental health concerns that is not helped by the obligation on players to speak to the media after every single match.

“That is massive pressure, especially for a young player and a girl as she is sitting in a room where the vast majority of people in the room are men. It can be pretty intimidating for a young girl to be put in that situation and clearly, Naomi finds that tough.

Naomi Osaka in action

“After you have lost, it is very easy to say something in the heat of the moment that will create a headline, so I’d say the game can give more support in all areas to young players as they make the transition from the junior ranks to the professionals.”

Murray went on to suggest the ATP and WTA Tours should consider having on-site mental health experts for players to avail of free of charge, to cope with the changing landscape of the game’s top stars.

“The tours do a great job of providing free physiotherapists for the players, so maybe now there is a need for more,” she added.

“I feel we have now reached a point where they also need to provide free sports physiologists at the big events for players to talk about mental health issues.”

Judy Murray was talking to Tennis365 ahead of the cinch Championships. cinch, lead partner of the LTA, is running a campaign to give away free tennis lessons this summer. For more information go to cinch.co.uk  

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