Ash Barty and home favourite Naomi Osaka start their respective quests for Olympic gold against Sara Sorribes Tormo and Zheng Saisai, while Novak Djokovic opens against Hugo Dellien.

In a stacked women's draw, world number one and Wimbledon champion Barty has a tough opening assignment and could face French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the 13th seed, as early as round three.

Spectators may not be in attendance at Tokyo venues for the Olympics but Japanese fans will be rooting for Osaka, who returns to action after a two-month hiatus with the four-time grand slam winner having spoken openly about mental health and anxiety issues.

Viktorija Golubic or Maria Camila Osorio Serrano would await Osaka if she can get through round one, but a dream final with Barty is no shoo-in given 15 of the world's top 20 on the WTA Tour are in action including each of the nine leading the race for the 2021 WTA Finals.

Aryna Sabalenka (3), Elina Svitolina (4), Wimbledon runner-up Karolina Pliskova (5), Iga Swiatek (6) and Garbine Muguruza are all featuring in Tokyo.

 

The men's side has been hit by a spate of withdrawals, with Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem among those not playing in the Japanese capital.

The main talking point surrounds whether the all-conquering Djokovic can continue his march towards a calendar Golden Slam – a sweep of all four majors and an Olympic gold in the same year.

Any notion of a free ride for the Serbian is wide of the mark, though. His side of the draw could see him come up against Andrey Rublev (5), Alexander Zverev (4) and Hubert Hurkacz (7), while Stefano Tsitsipas (3) – beaten by Djokovic in the French Open final – and Daniil Medvedev (2) are among the potential final opponents.

Andy Murray, gold medal winner in 2012 and 2016, faces Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime in a tricky first-round match.

Novak Djokovic has leapt from one bubble into another as he attempts to become the first man in tennis history to win all four grand slams and Olympic gold in the same year.

The only men to have won each of the singles majors across their careers, plus Olympic gold, are Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal, and now Djokovic aims to move to the brink of winning all five in his remarkable 2021 season.

Fresh from dominating at Wimbledon, and with the Australian and French Open titles already in the bag, Djokovic heads into the Tokyo Games as a red-hot favourite, seeking to set himself up to complete a historic campaign at the US Open.

Naomi Osaka will enter the Games with almost as much expectation behind her too, the reigning US Open and Australian Open champion eyeing glory for hosts Japan.

But tennis has thrown up a host of shock results in its short Olympic history. Here, Stats Perform looks at the sport's place in the Games.

 

WHO'S IN, WHO'S OUT, AND WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?

Serena Williams, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have all opted out of the Olympics.

Williams made her mind up prior to suffering a leg injury at Wimbledon, although she is already a member of the career Golden Slam club.

Federer reached his decision after revealing he also suffered a physical setback at the All England Club, and Nadal elected to take a two-month break after relinquishing his French Open title.

Don't expect to see them again at the Olympics, given Williams and Federer will be pushing 43 by Paris 2024, and Nadal will be 38. Federer won a doubles gold with Stan Wawrinka in 2008, but his singles peak was the silver medal he earned in 2012, Andy Murray crushing Swiss hopes in the final at Wimbledon.

Dominic Thiem, Bianca Andreescu, Nick Kyrgios, Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber, Victoria Azarenka and Denis Shapovalov are among other confirmed absentees, with fitness issues a factor for some, less so for others.

The COVID-19 crisis is a mitigating factor in why so many stars are staying away, and directly responsible in the case of some players, such as Britain's Johanna Konta and Dan Evans, who both tested positive recently.

But tennis was only fully restored to the Olympic programme in 1988, after being dropped post 1924, and if players are seen to be favouring the grand slams over the Games, that is not such a great look for the sport.

At a time when the International Olympic Committee has shown it is willing to shake up the sports on its programme, tennis could perhaps do with a headline-making Tokyo 2020.

Murray, the two-time defending men's champion, will target an improbable hat-trick. A hat-trick for the injury-hit former world number one would be a sensation, and Osaka landing gold in the women's tournament would surely be one of the great moments of the Games.

 

DJOKOVIC FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GRAF

When Steffi Graf beat Gabriela Sabatini in the women's singles final at Seoul, it completed what we know now as the calendar 'Golden Slam'. She had already won the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, and the feat of the then 19-year-old West German has yet to be repeated.

Now Djokovic is three-fifths of the way to a similar clean sweep of the majors and the Olympics, with the US Open getting under way on August 30 in New York.

He teetered on not going to Tokyo, and perhaps he is to some extent endangering his chances at Flushing Meadows by spending more time travelling and enduring bubble life, while others rest up.

But Djokovic is a fiercely proud Serbian and could not resist a great chance of winning gold for his country. He landed bronze at the 2008 Games in Beijing but in 2012 he lost to Juan Martin del Potro in the bronze-medal match, and a cruel draw at Rio four years later saw him assigned Del Potro in the first round.

Top seed Djokovic bowed out in two tie-breaks to the powerful Argentinian, describing the outcome as "one of the toughest losses in my career".

There is no danger of a hat-trick of defeats to Del Potro, which may help Djokovic. Del Potro has been battling for two years to get back to fitness, undergoing four rounds of right knee surgery in a bid to get back on tour.

 

RAISING THE BAR AT THE OLYMPICS

How the Olympic village functions in Tokyo will be distinctly different to at previous Games, given the pandemic restrictions in place that could be a real buzzkill.

But in the past there have been countless cases of athletes becoming inspired by their surroundings and going on to perform above their usual level.

It can be a party village, and it can also be an eyebrow-raising experience as global superstars rub shoulders with competitors who might struggle for recognition in their home towns. More than anything, the shared team experience, fighting for a collective cause, can make a middling athlete believe they can be great.

Monica Puig was a massive tennis outsider in 2016 but the then world number 34 won the women's singles, stunning Angelique Kerber in the final after beating Petra Kvitova and Garbine Muguruza en route. That gave Puerto Rico their first ever Olympic gold medal.

In 1992, a tournament that featured the likes of Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker finished with a staggering final match-up of Marc Rosset versus Jordi Arrese, who in his home city of Barcelona was edged out 8-6 in the fifth set by the Swiss world number 43. Nobody would have predicted that head to head for gold.

Similarly, at Athens 2004, Nicolas Massu beat Mardy Fish in the gold medal match of a tournament that featured Federer, Andy Roddick, Carlos Moya and Tim Henman.

In the 1996 Atlanta Games, Lindsay Davenport, who had just turned 20, took inspiration from being the daughter of an Olympian, with dad Wink having played volleyball for the United States at Mexico City in 1968.

Davenport was beginning to make an impact on the WTA Tour but was only the ninth seed at the Olympics, yet she swept through the rounds before sinking Arantxa Sanchez Vicario 7-6 (10-8) 6-2 in the final.

"It's like one of those things I look back on and I'm like, 'Was that me?'," Davenport told The Tennis Podcast last year.

"It doesn't seem like it was real. I'd made the transition to the pro tour pretty well, but I liked hanging out between eight and 16 in the rankings. I was very insecure, unsure of what could I do. I liked doing well but I wasn't sure I wanted to do too well because it seemed really overwhelming to be one of those top players.

"Here I go at 20 years old to Atlanta for two or three weeks, in a setting that seemed so comfortable. Look at all these athletes, you have all different shapes and sizes, you have players that are really working hard but have so much in common and you get to hang out with them, breakfast, lunch, dinner in the village."

Davenport was a future world number one and three-time grand slam singles champion, but at this point in her career being an American at an Olympics in the United States was just a thrill.

"You're sharing this with your team-mates who are some of my best friends in Mary Joe Fernandez, Monica Seles. It was the best time ever," she said.

"By the time the tournament actually started we were like, 'Yeah, I'll go play my match and then we'll go back to the village and we'll hang out', and everything went so fast in those few weeks.

"And there I was left standing, winning at the end because I was so incredibly happy and excited with everything that was going on. I kind of forgot what was my job.

"When it became a reality of even just making the team in '96, it was so huge also for my family with having a second generation Olympian."

Roger Federer is in the draw for the US Open, but it remains unclear whether he will be fit to take part in the final grand slam of the year.

The United States Tennis Association confirmed on Wednesday that Federer was one of six former men's champions to receive direct entry into the draw.

Federer this month withdrew from the Olympic Games, citing a setback with his knee, on which he had two surgeries in 2020.

The Swiss, though, expressed his desire to return the tour, with Flushing Meadows providing his last chance to add to his tally of 20 major titles in 2021.

A five-time winner in New York, Federer has not reached the final at the US Open since 2015.

In the women's singles draw, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams have each received direct entries into the draw.

Reigning champion Osaka missed Wimbledon having withdrawn from the French Open after the first round to protect her well-being amid a fallout following her decision to not attend post-match media conferences.

Williams is still awaiting a record-tying 24th grand slam title, the 39-year-old forced to retire from her first-round match at Wimbledon because of an injury to her right leg.

Having seen crowds return to a range of tour events, former Wimbledon winner Pat Cash understands the disappointment of tennis moving back to behind closed doors at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Each of the three grand slam events to have taken place this year has been held with fans in attendance, with Centre Court seeing capacity crowds for each of the singles finals at Wimbledon. The US Open, which begins on August 30, will allow 100 per cent fan capacity at Flushing Meadows for the final major of 2021.

However, Cash does not believe the lack of spectators at the Games will have too much of an impact on the players who have elected to travel to Japan.

"Well it's unfortunate that the Olympics won't have any fans. I think that's a real disappointment," Cash told Stats Perform.

"But 95 per cent of our life is played on an empty practice court and stadiums.

"Certainly, when you're coming through, nobody's watching you. It's only when you get to Wimbledon or something that you play with crowds, and they can make a difference. We've also been playing most of the year without them.

"To go back [to no fans] it's unfortunate, but it's not something unusual for the players. The crowd certainly does make a difference. It makes a difference with attention and with the crowd roaring and whistling or whatever they want to do."

World number two Naomi Osaka, who will return to action having withdrawn from the French Open to protect her well-being and subsequently skipped Wimbledon, is one athlete who could have benefited from the home support in Japan.

Though he is unsure of how boisterous the home crowd would have been in Tokyo, Cash still feels for the 23-year-old four-time Grand Slam winner.

 

"With no crowds there that's disappointing for her," he added. 

"But you know, it's sort of something we've become used to on the tour - playing with empty crowds and the nerves still kick in, it is all about winning, and players tend to learn to block the crowds out quite well.

"They stay in their own world when they're on the tennis court. The urgency and the intensity of a match is not really going to change that much because the players really want this for themselves."

Naomi Osaka is less likely to claim Olympics glory on home soil in Tokyo because her lack of match practice will be a disadvantage, according to Pat Cash.

Japan's Osaka has not played since withdrawing from the French Open after one match at the end of May, having revealed she would skip press conferences as "people have no regard for athletes' mental health".

Prior to taking a break from the sport, four-time grand slam champion Osaka revealed she had suffered "long bouts of depression" since winning the US Open in 2018.

The 23-year-old said this month she wants "some level of privacy and empathy" from the media when she returns to action and but also discussed her excitement at playing in a "dream" Olympics.

Former Wimbledon champion Cash insists Osaka has the game to triumph but feels it is a tougher task now given her main opponents are coming off two grand slams in quick succession.

"Yeah, she said [she was taking] time out – it's hard to know if she's going to be match hardened," Cash said to Stats Perform.

"I think that's the thing about playing Wimbledon, the grass court season. Are you match toughened? 

"That goes a huge, huge way [to achieving success, and not having that] is putting yourself under pressure and especially under those circumstances if it's for a gold medal."

 

Cash feels the quality and depth of opposition in the women's draw is another obstacle in Osaka's bid for gold.

Wimbledon winner Ash Barty, beaten finalist Karolina Pliskova, former French Open champion Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka are scheduled to be among the highest-ranked competitors for Osaka at the Olympics.

Cash added: "There are a lot of good players too. Going back onto the hard court, I think that favours certain players who hit the ball hard like Sabalenka for instance.

"But there's 30 girls who really do think they can win a gold medal there and I think that's true. 

"So it's very hard to predict who will win, obviously Japan want Osaka to win, but with her being out, I think it's less likely than in a normal circumstance where she's playing matches. 

"But she's such a talent that she really could come out there and blast players away, so I wouldn't put it past her."

Naomi Osaka wants "some level of privacy and empathy" from the media when she returns to action and says she "could not be more excited" to play in the Olympics.

Osaka has not played since withdrawing from the French Open after revealing she would skip press conferences at Roland Garros as "people have no regard for athletes' mental health".

The four-time grand slam champion from Japan revealed she had suffered "long bouts of depression" since winning the US Open in 2018.

Osaka says she has not changed her stance on press conferences and feels she had been unfairly scrutinised.

The world number two wrote in Time magazine: "I communicated that I wanted to skip press conferences at Roland Garros to exercise self-care and preservation of my mental health. I stand by that.

"Athletes are humans. Tennis is our privileged profession, and of course there are commitments off the court that coincide. But I can't imagine another profession where a consistent attendance record [I have missed one press conference in my seven years on tour] would be so harshly scrutinised.

"Perhaps we should give athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions.

"In any other line of work, you would be forgiven for taking a personal day here and there, so long as it's not habitual. You wouldn't have to divulge your most personal symptoms to your employer; there would likely be HR measures protecting at least some level of privacy.

"In my case, I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms - frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me. I do not wish that on anyone and hope that we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones.

"I also do not want to have to engage in a scrutiny of my personal medical history ever again. So I ask the press for some level of privacy and empathy next time we meet."

 

Osaka is feeling the benefits of a break and is relishing representing her country in the Olympics on home soil in Tokyo.

"After taking the past few weeks to recharge and spend time with my loved ones, I have had the time to reflect, but also to look forward," the 23-year-old said. 

"I could not be more excited to play in Tokyo. An Olympic Games itself is special, but to have the opportunity to play in front of the Japanese fans is a dream come true. I hope I can make them proud."

After an absence of 112 years, golf made a grand return to the Olympics schedule at the 2016 Rio Games.

Now, four years on, another stellar cast from the men's and women's games are descending on Tokyo aiming to stand atop the podium.

While several big names once again opted out – including former world number one Dustin Johnson – amid a demanding schedule during the traditional major season, the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Nelly Korda offer plenty of star attraction.

With that in mind, Stats Perform provides an overview of those competing for golfing glory in Japan.

RAHM, BRYSON, MCILROY AND THOMAS THE HEADLINE ACTS

Justin Rose missed out on qualification, meaning there will be a new gold medal winner in the men's competition. And what an achievement it would be for Rahm to add an Olympic accolade to his name fresh off breaking his major duck with a fine U.S. Open triumph last month. McIlroy finished in a tie for seventh at Torrey Pines and, having previously been among the biggest critics of golf at the Olympics, is to make his Games debut representing Ireland aiming to add a gold medal to his four career majors. There are four male representatives from a star-studded United States cast that includes three major winners in the form of Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Colin Morikawa. DeChambeau had been well in contention to win the U.S. Open before a final-round collapse, with Morikawa finishing fourth. Xander Schauffele – the final American male in action – was tied seventh and is sure to have plenty of support given his mother, who was born in Taiwan, grew up in Japan.

KORDA OUT TO TAKE INBEE'S CROWN

Inbee Park is one of the all-time greats and the seven-time major victor is among the favourites to retain her gold medal from Rio four years ago. Ko Jin-young provides another strong South Korean hope, as do countrywomen Kim Sei-young and Kim Hyo-joo. But it is Nelly Korda who travels to Tokyo with all the momentum. The 22-year-old took the Women's US PGA Championship last month to ascend to the top of the LPGA rankings for the first time. Elder sister Jessica Korda also qualified, while their brother Sebastian is in line to represent the United States in tennis. Major winners Danielle Kang and Lexi Thompson complete a strong four-woman contingent. Filipino sensation Yuka Saso, who won the U.S. Open this year, is another to watch out for in the women's competition.

MATSUYAMA, HATAOKA OUT TO MAKE MOST OF HOME ADVANTAGE

Hideki Matsuyama made history by becoming the first man from Japan to win a major tournament with his glorious triumph at the Masters back in April. Moreover, the 29-year-old has previous at the Kasumigaseki Country Club – a venue where he won the Asia-Amateur Championship in 2010. A quiet man he may be on the course, but expect fireworks from Matsuyama in Tokyo. In the women's field, Nasa Hataoka is the highest-ranked Japanese player gunning for gold. With eight professional wins to her name, Hataoka went agonisingly close to securing a maiden major when she lost out in a play-off to then-teenager Saso at the U.S. Open. Hinako Shibuno, the 2019 Women's British Open champion, missed out on selection with Mone Inami instead Japan's other female representative.

The delay to the Tokyo Olympics has been a source of frustration for countless athletes, but perhaps none more so than the Japanese stars so desperate to succeed in their home nation.

Uncertainty and confusion surrounding the Games has sadly reigned for the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

And yet, here we are in the month the action is set to begin and the show looks certain to go on.

No international spectators will be in attendance, but limited numbers of domestic fans are due to be allowed to watch the action.

So, who are the biggest names representing Japan the locals will hope to inspire to glory? Stats Perform has taken a look…

NAOMI OSAKA

There is no other place to begin than with one of the biggest names in the whole of sport, let alone tennis right now. Naomi Osaka is a superstar with a huge global following, particularly in Japan and America. Only 23 and with four grand slams to her name, there is seemingly no limit to the level she can reach. Osaka is the defending US and Australian Open champion, but withdrew after the first round of the French Open and opted not to play at Wimbledon after revealing a long-endured battle with depression. The issue came to the fore when Osaka had announced she would not take part in media conferences in Paris to protect her mental health, starting a wider conversation over how athletes are treated. 

 

HIDEKI MATSUYAMA

So often a nearly man, 2021 has already been a breakthrough year for the gifted Hideki Matsuyama. There were seven top-10 finishes in major tournaments before finally the 29-year-old took top billing to win the Masters at Augusta back in April. In doing so he became the first Japanese man to win a major tournament (Hinako Shibuno and Chako Higuchi have both won majors in the women's game). Olympic gold is certainly not out of the question for one of the most gifted players in golf.

KIYUNA RYO

Karate is making its Olympics debut and so is one of its greatest ever competitors in the form of Kiyuna Ryo. In 2019, Ryo won every competition he entered - including a third Asian championship - while the pandemic denied him a shot at a record fourth straight WKF world championship in June 2020. It will take a huge effort to stop Ryo, who will be 31 by the time the Games begin, standing atop the podium.

UTA ABE

The younger sibling of two-time world champion Hifumi Abe – himself off to Tokyo 2020 – judoka Uta Abe represents a serious medal hope for Japan. A two-time world champion herself in the -52kg category, she will aim to become an Olympic champion on July 25 – the same day her brother will aim to wear gold in the men's -66kg category. There is no shortage of judo talent in Japan, with Shohei Ono aiming to defend the -73kg gold he won at Rio 2016.

KENTO MOMOTA 

The past 18 months have been challenging for everyone but especially for Kento Momota. In January 2020, the badminton star was involved in a road accident that claimed the life of his driver, while he required surgery on his eye socket. A combination of the injury, the global pandemic and a positive test for coronavirus kept Momota off the court for 14 months. But the two-time world champion – who won an astounding 11 titles as recently as 2019 – will be desperate to complete a fairytale ending with gold in Tokyo.

 

DAIYA SETO

One of Japan's greatest hopes in the pool, Daiya Seto already has an Olympic medal in the form of a bronze from Rio four years ago in the 400 metre individual medley. With four gold medals in long course world championships and as many at the Asian Games, there are plenty of high hopes for Seto.

Britain's biggest hope for Wimbledon glory believes All England Club absentee Naomi Osaka deserves admiration for her impact on and off the court this year.

Johanna Konta beat Osaka three times before the Japanese player went on a stratospheric rise, and she still holds that 3-0 record, given the pair have surprisingly gone four years without facing each other on tour.

While Konta will bid to become a first British champion in the Wimbledon women's singles since 1977 winner Virginia Wade, superstar Osaka has elected to skip the grand slam which begins next Monday, just weeks after withdrawing from the French Open.

Osaka is the reigning US Open and Australian Open champion, but she abandoned her Roland Garros campaign on May 31 after a first-round win and revealed a long-endured battle with depression.

She made that announcement a day after the grand slams warned she could be thrown out of their tournaments for repeatedly skipping mandatory post-match media duties, with Osaka receiving messages of support from the likes of Serena and Venus Williams and Billie Jean King.

The 23-year-old had already declared she would not take part in media conferences during her stay in Paris for the sake of her mental health, questioning the set-up of such interviews and why sporting bodies insist stars must always take part. She faced criticism from some quarters but has started a wider, valuable conversation about how athletes are treated.

Osaka, who last year was ranked by Forbes as the highest-paid female athlete in world sport, has been a powerful and uncompromising voice on race and gender inequality issues, with Konta impressed by the impact such a young player is having.

"As a tennis player she's a four-time grand slam champion already, so she's an incredibly gifted, good tennis player and she is reaching the results that prove that as well," said Konta, a Jaguar ambassador.

"I think for the game, she'll probably be around and be successful for quite some time to come.

"She has a big passion for social movements and current social matters and she feels empowered by using her voice in ways she feels is beneficial to things that she believes in and that's her prerogative to do so.

"And I think that as long as people stay authentic to themselves and what they believe in, I think they make the biggest positive impact they can, and that is the rule of thumb that she's following.

"Obviously a lot of people will find a lot of solace in someone as successful as her talking about things that maybe they experience but don't have the sort of social platform or, I guess, strength of voice to be able to put it in the public domain. Kudos to her for being true to herself."

Konta's wins over Osaka came at the second-round stage of the 2015 US Open, the same round at the 2017 Australia Open, and later in 2017 in Stuttgart.

Their next meeting could come at the Tokyo Olympics, with both planning to take part, Osaka hoping to strike what would be a famous gold for Japan.

The best tennis of Konta's 2021 season so far saw her land a grass-court title at the Nottingham Open this month, becoming the first British woman to win a WTA singles tournament on home soil since Sue Barker did so at the Daihatsu Challenge event in Brighton in 1981.

It gave Konta a first trophy since winning the Miami Open in 2017 and a fourth career title, with the former world number four hitting her stride in timely fashion ahead of a Wimbledon tilt.

For any British player at Wimbledon, attention can be intense, but that is particularly the case for the few who have enjoyed success on a scale Konta has experienced, reaching the semi-finals in 2017 and getting through to the quarters two years ago, the last time the tournament was held.

She has found ways to alleviate the pressure from her own perspective, explaining how she took the heat out of situations so successfully in previous championships.

"Playing in 2017 and getting to the semis there, I didn't feel too overwhelmed by attention," Konta, 30, said in an interview with Stats Perform.

"I think attention can only be too overwhelming if you put yourself in the position where you are looking for it and acknowledging it.

"For me, I would wake up, have breakfast, get in my own car and drive myself to the site, warm up and play my match and do the media and all that, then I'd get in my car and come home, have dinner, watch a series or watch a film, but I wasn't spending my time on social media, I wasn't watching the news, I wasn't really doing too much.

"The only time I noticed that things were happening was when I needed to pop to the supermarket to get some food, and all the newspapers that were there had my face on them, so that was an interesting one."


:: Johanna Konta is a Jaguar ambassador. Jaguar is the Official Car of The Championships, Wimbledon. To discover Jaguar’s unmatched experiences visit jaguar.co.uk/Wimbledon

Naomi Osaka will not take part in Wimbledon, but is expecting to return to the court in time to feature for Japan at the Tokyo Olympics.

Osaka withdrew from the French Open having won her first-round match, after she was fined and threatened with further punishment – and possible expulsion from the grand slam – for skipping obligatory media duties.

The four-time grand slam champion had confirmed before Roland Garros that she would not be taking part in post-match news conferences, suggesting her mental health was not helped by having to attend the mandatory interviews.

Osaka, the world number two, stated she has had "long bouts of depression" since winning the 2018 US Open title.

With Wimbledon starting at the end of June, Osaka has decided to skip the third grand slam of the year, and instead take time away from tennis.

However, she aims to be back to represent Japan in their home Olympic Games, which start next month.

A statement from Osaka's representatives confirmed that she will miss Wimbledon while taking some personal time with friends and family, but that she will be ready for the Olympics.

The 23-year-old's withdrawal came on the same day that Rafael Nadal – a beaten semi-finalist at Roland Garros – confirmed he would not play at Wimbledon or the Olympics.

Nadal, 35, explained that the quick turnaround from a gruelling campaign in Paris to another tough schedule at Wimbledon presented too much of a risk to his fitness.

Naomi Osaka's shock withdrawal from the French Open has raised questions over news conferences and their impact on mental health for athletes.

Osaka pulled out of Roland Garros on Monday, a day after tournament organisers fined the four-time grand slam champion and threatened her with more severe sanctions for refusing to attend mandatory media conferences.

The 23-year-old world number two and Japanese star had opened up about her mental health problems, revealing in a statement she has had "long bouts of depression" since claiming the 2018 US Open.

While her WTA and ATP Tour colleagues voiced their support, Osaka's stance has sparked controversy, though more importantly it has highlighted the growing issue of mental health problems in sport.

"I think it's a very important stance because it really highlights how sport has really looked at challenging issues through either the paradigm of sport or business," World Players Association executive director Brendan Schwab told Stats Perform. "Here, there is a very simple rule put in place that athletes have to attend post-match media conferences in order to promote visibility around the sport and then to promote the commercial interests of the sport. But that rule is put in place without any due diligence being done as to the risks with that on athletes or athlete health and safety.

"If we look at health and safety, we have to look at not only physical health but mental health and wellbeing. There is a very clear rule but it's going to impact athletes differently. The tournament organisers and sports bodies need to understand they have this proactive duty and to be aware of those impacts, and where their rule is going to have a harmful impact, they need to just adjust their procedures and requirements accordingly."

German great Boris Becker voiced his concerns for Osaka's future following her decision to quit the French Open in Paris.

A six-time slam winner, Becker told Eurosport: "I always believed the media was part of the job. Without the media, there is no prize money, no contracts, you don't get half the cake. I hated the media and I didn't like talking to journalists, but you had to do it.

"Now she is pulling out of the tournament altogether because she can't cope with it and that raises much bigger questions for me. If she can't cope with the media in Paris, she can't cope with the media in Wimbledon or the US Open. So I almost feel like her career is in danger due to mental health issues."

It is a view shared by many past and present tennis players – news conferences are part and parcel of the job. But are they?

"I think everyone would agree that is an important part of the job, but certainly not an essential part. The essential part of the job is performing as a player. But we cannot ask people to perform in circumstances where it's unsafe. It may be safe for some and unsafe for others," said Schwab.

"As in this case, there is an understanding that a particular player has a pre-condition or certain vulnerability, not to respond to that is inexcusable. It's certainly no defence to say it's safe for other people. That is why we need a real deep understanding of mental health.

"It's really important to see it as an occupational issue. A sporting place is not an ordinary workplace. It is a workplace which has heightened pressure. Therefore, the likelihood of there being adverse mental health impacts are greater. It's not going to affect everyone equally and sports bodies need to be smart enough to understand that fact."

Schwab added: "For Naomi's incredibly courageous stance here, there will be other players for which withdrawal is not an option and they will continue to face the workplace and pressures associated with that and therefore exacerbating the harm they're already experiencing."

The World Players Association is the leading voice of organised players in the governance of world sport. It brings together 85,000 players across professional sport through more than 100 player associations in over 60 countries.

As mental health becomes more prevalent in a professional sports environment amid the growing physical and emotional demands, Schwab said: "What our Players Associations do is they run player development and wellbeing programmes. The more sophisticated of those programmes would actually have employees and experts who are engaged by the player associations but often based in the teams or club environment, so the players know they can access them, they are proximate to the players so they can access tailored advice and support.

"Mental health is one of those things but there are many other issues that players will have to deal with. The athletic career itself is short-term and precarious, so there is constant effort being made to ensure players are developing holistically, they're pursuing education and other opportunities."

As Schwab voiced his disapproval of the "blanket rule" to post-match commitments, the Australian shed light on how the World Players Association prepares athletes for the media.

"Certainly part of our development programmes, we will provide what we call induction programmes so that the players go through what they will expect in terms of their athletic career, so they can excel as athletes and in the job," he said. "Clearly, dealing with the media is a very important part of those programmes, but you have to be really careful to ensure this isn't a 'one-size-fits-all' approach. Player associations have a common interest with sports bodies to maximise the interest in the sport and commercial viability so the players can share in their wealth, but the impact is dispiriting.

"If we look at the way players are being trained physically, physical loads are being tailored based on the individual athletic capacity of certain players. Physical health is not the only health and safety concern we have to be worried about. Players have different vulnerabilities in terms of mental health and therefore it makes absolute sense for sports bodies to tailor their commitments, so they don't unnecessarily expose more vulnerable players than others. A blanket rule, like in this case, where athletes feel vulnerable and are at risk of an adverse health consequence should not be imposed.

"I really do believe the tournament organisers, Roland Garros in particular, exacerbated that harm when they started to promote the fact that other players were comfortable to do the press conferences in order to put pressure on Naomi, and clearly that has proven to be incredibly counterproductive… if the starting point is not a recognition of their proactive duty to provide a safe workplace and that safe workplace means understanding the physical, mental and the wellbeing risks holistically and then tailoring for the particular needs of players individually, then these kind of problems will likely reoccur."

Men's top seed Novak Djokovic says he empathizes with Naomi Osaka having been on the wrong side of the media in the past following her withdrawal from the 2021 French Open.

Four-time grand slam winner Osaka pulled out of Roland Garros on Monday, a day after tournament organisers said her continued refusal to attend compulsory news conferences could result in her being expelled from the Open.

Osaka had come out publicly prior to the French Open and announced she would not attend the news conferences after matches at Roland Garros, citing mental health reasons.

After winning in the first round, Osaka opted out and explained her decision in a social media statement where she said has had bouts of depression since winning the US Open in 2018 and never intended for her stance to become a distraction.

Djokovic, who came under fire last year for his role in the Adria Tour and his US Open default, was asked about Osaka's situation at his post-match news conferences after his straight sets win over Tennys Sandgren on Tuesday.

"Naomi is very young… I can understand her very well. I can empathise because I was on the wrong edge of the sword in my career many times with media," Djokovic said.

"I know how it feels. I support her. I think she was very brave to do that.

"I'm really sorry that she's going through painful times and suffering mentally. I wish her all the best.

"She's a very important player, brand and person for our sport. We need to have her back.

"This was a very bold decision from her side but she knows how she feels best. If she needs to take time and reflect and recharge, that's what she needed to do. I respect it fully. I hope she'll come back stronger."

Djokovic, who was 18 major titles to his name, added that he understood the stance of the French Open and other Grand Slams who have insisted on news conferences being mandatory after every match.

"The grand slams are protecting themselves and their own business," he said. "Of course, they're going to follow the rules and make sure you are complying otherwise you'll be paying fines and getting sanctioning.

"It's not surprising to me that that was their reaction. We're used to this environment and the principles of us doing interviews after every match and getting to answer questions that are majorly quite similar.

"But it's part of our sport and what we do. The media is important without a doubt. It's allowing us to have the platform to communicate with our fans but in a more traditional way.

"It used to be the only way how we could reach out to our fans. In the last five to 10 years it's not the case anymore. We have our own platforms and social media accounts."

Djokovic won 6-2 6-4 6-2 over Sandgren, compiling 33 winners to extend his outstanding French Open first round record to 17-0.

"I thought I played really well, moved very well," he said. "From the later stages of the Rome tournament until now, I'm finding my groove on the court, striking the ball well."

The leaders of tennis' four grand slam events have commended Naomi Osaka for opening up about her mental health problems and have vowed to put players' wellbeing first.

Osaka pulled out of the French Open on Monday, a day after organisers fined the four-time grand slam winner and threatened her with more severe sanctions for refusing to attend mandatory media conferences.

The world number two said in a statement posted on social media that she has had "long bouts of depression" since winning the US Open in 2018 and never intended for her stance to become a distraction.

Osaka also indicated that she was willing to work closely with tour officials "to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans."

Amid criticism for the way in which they have handled the matter, those in charge of the French Open, Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open have now softened their stance.

A joint statement on Tuesday from French tennis federation president Gilles Moretton, All England Club chairman Ian Hewitt, U.S. Tennis Association president Mike McNulty and Tennis Australia president Jayne Hrdlicka read: "On behalf of the Grand Slams, we wish to offer Naomi Osaka our support and assistance in any way possible as she takes time away from the court.

"She is an exceptional athlete and we look forward to her return as soon as she deems appropriate. Mental health is a very challenging issue, which deserves our utmost attention.

"It is both complex and personal, as what affects one individual does not necessarily affect another. 

"We commend Naomi for sharing in her own words the pressures and anxieties she is feeling and we empathise with the unique pressures tennis players may face. 

"While players' wellbeing has always been a priority to the Grand Slams, our intention, together with the WTA, the ATP and the ITF, is to advance mental health and wellbeing through further actions.

"Together as a community we will continue to improve the player experience at our tournaments, including as it relates to media.

"Change should come through the lens of maintaining a fair playing field, regardless of ranking or status. Sport requires rules and regulations to ensure that no player has an unfair advantage over another.

"We intend to work alongside the players, the tours, the media and the broader tennis community to create meaningful improvements. As Grand Slams, we aim to create the stage for the players to achieve the highest accolades in our sport."

Osaka's shock withdrawal generated an outpouring of support across the tennis world and beyond, with the likes of Serena Williams, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova backing the 23-year-old's stance.

Gael Monfils also chipped in on Tuesday, the top-ranked French men's player pointing out that it is difficult to judge Osaka's situation from the outside.

"We need Naomi. We need her definitely to be 100 per cent," he said following his win over Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

"We need her back on the court, back on the press conference, and back happy. You know, that's what we need.

"What she's dealing with is tough for me to even judge, because I think she has massive pressure from many things.

"I think she's quite young. She's handling it quite well. Sometimes we want maybe too much from her, and then how she says maybe she can't manage it that well, so sometimes for sure she's going to make some mistakes.

"But I give her always the chance because she's a champion, she's quite young, she has a huge influence. I think she needs to take some time for herself to work on herself, feel better."

Boris Becker fears Naomi Osaka's career could be "in danger" after she withdrew from the French Open to prioritise improving her mental health.

Osaka had hit the headlines by revealing she would not face the media at Roland Garros because "people have no regard for athletes' mental health" during news conferences.

The four-time grand slam champion was fined for not fulfilling her media duties after beating Maria Tig and warned she could face more severe sanctions.

Osaka on Monday revealed she had pulled out of the second major of the year to take time away from the court, having struggled with "long bouts of depression" since winning the US Open in 2018.

The 23-year-old also spoke of her struggles with social anxiety and Becker is concerned for her tennis future.

Becker, a winner of six grand slam titles in his illustrious career, told Eurosport: "I heard her first response a couple of days ago about this media boycott and that is something to be always taken seriously, especially from such a young woman.

"She couldn't cope with the pressures of facing the media after she loses a match, but that happens frequently and you have to deal with it.

"I always believed the media was part of the job. Without the media, there is no prize money, no contracts, you don't get half the cake. I hated the media and I didn't like talking to journalists, but you had to do it.

"Now she is pulling out of the tournament altogether because she can't cope with it and that raises much bigger questions for me.

"If she can't cope with the media in Paris, she can't cope with the media in Wimbledon or the US Open. So I almost feel like her career is in danger due to mental health issues."

Naomi Osaka's shock withdrawal from the French Open generated an outpouring of support across the tennis world and beyond. 

The four-time grand slam winner pulled out of Roland Garros on Monday, a day after tournament organisers said her continued refusal to attend mandatory press conferences could result in her being thrown out of the event.

Osaka said in a statement posted to social media that she has had bouts of depression since winning the US Open in 2018 and never intended for her stance to become a distraction. 

Monday's action in Paris had mostly been completed when the news broke, but Serena Williams shared her thoughts following an evening match. 

Williams acknowledged feeling anxious dealing with the press at times early in her career, but said she believed the experience made her stronger. 

Top of mind, however, was concern for Osaka. 

"The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi. I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it's like," Williams said.

"We have different personalities, and people are different. Not everyone is the same. Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently.

"You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to, in the best way she thinks she can, and that's the only thing I can say. I think she's doing the best that she can."

Osaka's fellow players and others took to social media with encouraging messages for the 23-year-old. 

Venus Williams wrote on Instagram: "So proud of you. Take care of yourself and see you back winning soon!"

Young American star Coco Gauff responded to Osaka's tweet by writing "stay strong ... I admire your vulnerability." 

A pair of tennis legends also weighed in on Twitter. 

"I am so sad about Naomi Osaka. I truly hope she will be ok," Martina Navratilova wrote.

"As athletes we are taught to take care of our body, and perhaps the mental and emotional aspect gets short shrift.

"This is about more than doing or not doing a press conference. Good luck Naomi - we are all pulling for you!"

Billie Jean King added: "It’s incredibly brave that Naomi Osaka has revealed her truth about her struggle with depression. Right now, the important thing is that we give her the space and time she needs. We wish her well."

Mardy Fish, the former ATP player who reached number seven in the world, wrote to Osaka: "Mental health is nothing to criticise. Nothing to joke about. Pls [sic] take your mental health seriously. Without my support system, I truly believe I would not be here today. Here for you."

That public show of support extended beyond tennis, as prominent NFL and NBA players praised Osaka for her courage. 

"We are with you," said Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

NBA star Stephen Curry wrote: "You shouldn't ever have to make a decison like this - but so damn impressive taking the high road when the powers that be don't protect their own. Major respect."

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