Retired Formula One world champion Nico Rosberg said he respects Naomi Osaka’s decision to shun French Open press conferences for mental health reasons and added that she is “ballsy,” but recognised opponents could find it unfair.
The German made considerable use of sports psychology as he battled and beat Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton, now the sport’s most successful driver of all time, to the title in a gruelling 2016 season.
Much of the stress, the German told Reuters on Thursday, came from the media repeatedly questioning his abilities and mental strength.
“I think it’s quite a ballsy step again from her,” Rosberg said of Osaka’s move, which Japan’s four-times major winner and world number two communicated on social media.
Tennis players can be fined up to $20,000 for skipping a media conference at Roland Garros but Osaka was ready to accept any sanction and hoped mental health charities would benefit.
“I can understand because when I was on my way to the championship… I switched everything off. No media, no news, no emails,” Rosberg said.
“I had nothing. No phone, no nothing. Just focus. For the last five months en route to the championship.
“Focus is a key differentiator when you’re trying to have success.”
Rosberg said the problem came at the track when he faced questions along the lines of ‘you’ve never won before when you’ve been in such a situation’, ‘are you too weak to win?’ and ‘Are you going to be forever a number two?’.
“I can’t just say I’m not interested in answering. I have to answer, to remain polite. In those difficult phases, that’s hard,” he added.
“To get these repetitions from you guys every single time, and every single day after driving. You make a mistake out there in free practice and…’Are you feeling the pressure Nico? Is that why you made that mistake?’ That’s hard. So I can definitely understand Naomi.
“If she has acute mental health challenges than that’s totally respectable.”
Rosberg recognised he would have felt at a disadvantage if Hamilton had been able to excuse himself from media commitments while he and others had to continue with them.
“It’s unfair, but at the same time if it’s really about acute mental health problems then it does become fair because that is more important than anything else,” he added. “So it really depends on her situation.
“Mental health is mental health so you can’t say you have to withstand the same pressures. Maybe a compromise would be that…she has to hold a statement at least where she tries to elaborate a little bit without any questions being allowed.”