Tennis players talk about mental health


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Two professional tennis players, Naomi Osaka and Robin Soderling, recently opened up about their mental health. Many Lincoln tennis players echo their thoughts.

Abby Yium and Savanna Kenney

In the past two years, Robin Soderling and Naomi Osaka have paved the way for the conversation about mental health in tennis. 

On July 7, 2020, Robin Soderling made a groundbreaking post on Instagram opening up about his mental health struggles.The peak of Soderling’s tennis career was in 2009, when he defeated Rafael Nadal in the Roland Garros (French Open) semifinals. He stopped competing in 2011 and retired in 2015. 

“In 2011, I was in the best physical shape of my life—but from one day to another I couldn’t take a step, I couldn’t breathe, I just wanted to crawl out of my skin,” he wrote. “It’s time to address mental illness amongst professional athletes, and this time actually do something about it.”

At the end of his post, he disclosed why he waited so long to discuss his mental health.

“Nine years later, I feel good again…People around me [have] urged me to speak up about my health journey earlier, but I wanted to wait until I felt ready, and completely healed.”

On May 31, 2021, Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open after her first match, citing mental health issues. After her win, she did not speak with the press, consequently resulting in a $15,000 fine and the possibility of being disqualified if her silence continued. 

In June of 2021, she chose not to compete in Wimbledon, and opened up about her mental health issues in a Time essay entitled “it’s O.K to not be O.K.

“I communicated that I wanted to skip press conferences at Roland Garros to exercise self-care and preservation of my mental health,” she wrote. “I stand by that. Athletes are humans.” 

According to the New York Times, the presence of sports psychologists on Women’s Tennis Association and ATP tours will now be regular. 

“I think [having sports psychologists is] definitely a start. It’s good that they’re starting to implement sources from the athletes to get mental health aid, but there definitely could be a lot more done especially with the fans and the audience,” said Abby Snyder, a junior at Lincoln who played on Lincoln’s girl’s JV tennis team in 2020. 

Lincoln senior Gretta Thompson, who plays tennis competitively, agreed, pointing out the unproductive reaction from the media to Osaka’s discussion about her mental health. 

“When Osaka came out talking about her mental health issues, that’s all she was [to the media and to the public]—her mental health issues,” Thompson said.

The mental health issues created by tennis don’t just impact players on the professional level. 

“The culture of tennis is to suck it up and be silent in everything,” Thompson said. 

Thompson played on the Lincoln girl’s varsity tennis team last year. She has noticed unsettling aspects about the culture of tennis in her time. 

“I feel like we have not brought up mental health at all, at least in my short experience in the [Lincoln] High School realm,” she said. 

Many players say that tennis causes a high-stress situation because, unlike many other sports, players are out on the court alone in the case of singles, or with just one other person in the case of doubles.

Joyce Feliciano, Lincoln’s head tennis coach this year, reflected on the mental aspect of the sport. 

“Tennis is a mentally difficult sport, especially in singles. As a match progresses, it’s really hard to balance nervousness and performance,” Feliciano said. “Sometimes the nerves reach a tipping point where one can feel paralyzed by their fears.”

Snyder noted that, because tennis is a solitary sport, the pressure to win stems from the player. 

“The most pressure I feel is [the] pressure I put on myself,” she said.

Thompson agreed. 

“When I mess up when I’m playing singles, I get so mad at myself, and it affects the rest of my week,” she said.

Snyder re-emphasized the importance of opening the conversation around mental health. 

“In all sports, but especially tennis, mental health needs to be taken into consideration more.”