Understanding Professional Tennis Burnout

And it ain’t just Osaka.

Are you old enough to remember this?

“Bjorn Borg of Sweden, a superstar of the 1970s and winner of 11 Grand Slam titles, lost his fourth U.S. Open final in 1981. He walked off the court, drove away in his car, and never played another Grand Slam tournament again. He was 25.” 

A sports psychologists concludes that:

“. . . players can survive careers — inevitably filled with losses and disappointment — only by working every day to build self-worth and self-confidence that is not measured by wins and rankings points but rather relationships.”

For me, the article begs the question, why doesn’t tennis allow a coach to sit courtside for encouraging chats during changeovers?

Osaka Says ‘Au Revoir’ To The French Open

The gist of the story

“Osaka, 23, . . . revealed that she has experienced depression and anxiety since winning her first major at the 2018 US Open and explained that speaking to the media often makes her nervous. She apologized to any media members she had impacted with her decision.

‘I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media. I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try and engage and give [the media] the best answers I can.'”

This is bigger than the French Open. Osaka is emblematic of a generation that struggles with anxiety disorders and mental health more generally. The question is how are employers going to adapt to their young, often anxious employees? The best course of action will hinge on the type of work. But it starts, in each case, with heightened sensitivity to the issue. 

In Osaka’s case, tennis needs her WAY more than she needs tennis. In 2020, she earned $50 million from tournaments and endorsements*. Osaka preferring Instagram to post-match pressers makes perfect sense because she can control the message and her social anxiety. It was painful watching her squirm under intense questioning about a poor performance in a previous tournament. Professional tennis “powers that be” should start thinking about how athletes can leverage their social media to increase their and their sport’s popularity. The post match presser is analog, social media is digital. Osaka isn’t saying she doesn’t want to interact with fans, she’s saying she just doesn’t want to do it live right after matches. 

When professional tennis comes to ask me what they should do, I will be brief. Always accommodate. 

*I suspect Osaka’s mental health challenges and transparency about them make her an even more popular endorser of products. I also suspect she’d forego many millions for peace of mind.