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The US Open unfolds amid a new era for players’ mental health

Naomi Osaka of Japan celebrates with the championship trophy after her match against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus (not pictured) in the women’s singles final on day 13 of the 2020 US Open tennis tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. (Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports)

NEW YORK – Players’ mental health is in the limelight as the US Open kicks off on Monday, after four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka led the charge for her fellow athletes this year.

The 23-year-old withdrew from the French Open after being fined and threatened with expulsion for refusing to attend press conferences, which she said had an adverse impact on her mental health, revealing that she had suffered from depression for years.

The incident prompted Roland-Garros organizers to admit that the sport’s governing bodies needed to do better and the United States Tennis Association (USTA) this week announced a player mental health initiative in partnership with the Health System. Mount Sinai.

“Sports psychology has always been in the realm of ‘how do we optimize on the pitch?’ but there are many reasons why athletes are affected after the competition, ”Shannon O’Neill, PhD, a psychologist at Mount Sinai West, told Reuters.

“To really promote a whole person who is multifaceted, not just an athlete … I think that is really fundamental in the therapeutic process.”

A broader conversation about mental health in sport has developed since Roland-Garros, with four-time Rio Olympic champion Simone Biles withdrawing from various gymnastics events at the Tokyo Games, citing the need to focus. on your mental health and get global support.

At Flushing Meadows this week, world number two Aryna Sabalenka told reporters that working with a psychologist had paid dividends on and off the court.

She previously credited therapy for helping her handle the pressure of Wimbledon, where she reached the semi-final in the best major performance of her career.

“Knowing that I have someone to help me when I need it … it definitely helps,” he said. “Once at night I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking too much about everything. I just called her and talked to her … After that I felt so much better. “

Acting quickly to provide more support for athletes is imperative for the sport’s governing bodies, Bob Dorfman, creative director of Baker Street Advertising, told Reuters, with the issue still on his mind.

“The mental health of athletes had never been a major concern until Naomi Osaka bravely made it public, and Simone Biles bravely kept it front and center,” he said. “It is admirable that the US Open is presenting initiatives in this regard, but it cannot be more lip service or temporary.

“The action must be sincere, continuous and well financed. Anything less will sound fake. “

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), meanwhile, joined forces with seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus Williams, partnering with mental health services company BetterHelp for a “free therapy gift” of $ 2 million.

“We need to create an open and accepting environment to seek professional mental health therapy,” Williams said.

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