Mats Wilander expects Naomi Osaka to come back “stronger than ever” after deciding to skip Wimbledon this summer.
World No 2 Osaka pulled out of the French Open earlier this month due to mental health issues and revealed that she had "suffered long bouts of depression" since winning her first Grand Slam title in 2018.
She has since withdrawn from Wimbledon to spend time with friends and family, and is set to return to action in her home country of Japan for the Olympics in July.
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“It does not come as a surprise that she pulled out of Wimbledon,” seven-time Grand Slam champion Wilander told Eurosport.
"I think after what happened in Paris, Wimbledon comes a little bit too close. And I don’t know if you can recover or improve your mental health in just three or four weeks ahead of Wimbledon. So, I think she is doing the right thing.
I do agree that if the Olympics are in your country and you are the biggest star your country has, you have a responsibility towards the Olympics and towards your country, more than playing Wimbledon. She will be playing Wimbledon for another 10 years.
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“The Olympics are being played on her best surface, back home. It will inspire a generation of new athletes in Japan and I completely agree with her decision to skip Wimbledon and to be ready for the Olympics.
“I think that she has to think about the consequences of her presence on social media and I guess she will learn from this experience more than we can imagine. So, I expect her to come back stronger than ever when she’s back on the hard courts.”
While Osaka is set to return in Tokyo, Rafael Nadal has decided to skip both Wimbledon and the Olympics.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion has said he needs to listen to his body after a busy clay season that culminated in defeat in the French Open semi-finals to Novak Djokovic.
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Wilander says he is “sad and disappointed” by Nadal’s decision but understands why he made it.
“I can see how the Olympics could be a big problem both physically and tennis-wise and then of course coming back to play the US Open, but Wimbledon I’m very disappointed, I feel that obviously he has a really good reason to pull out because otherwise he wouldn’t.
“I think the two weeks in between doesn’t make it easier for somebody like Rafa with his style. I think he played maybe too much tennis on the clay courts, but that’s what he does. I think more than anything I’m just really sad and disappointed. I would have loved to see the Big Three back in action again and fighting for this history that we’re that we’re all talking about.
“I think that the consequence for Rafa over the years for me has been that, while it is his greatest strength to leave every ounce of emotional, tactical and physical energy in the match that he either wins in the end or loses especially, at the same time, it’s most probably stopped him the most from keep on playing because he cannot leave a court without having given 100 per cent and sometimes that means that you go further in your heart than your body allows you to.
“I think that’s what stands out with Rafa compared to Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic but at the same time, I wouldn’t wish it any other way because I love seeing Rafa, literally, giving it all on a tennis court.”
Dominic Thiem and Denis Shapovalov have also announced they will miss the Olympics and other players are expected to follow due to the demands on playing in Tokyo, where Covid-19 protocols are set to be strict.
“I’m not sure there’s anybody to blame,” said Wilander.
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“I think it’s just unfortunate that we - unfortunately or fortunately - have four majors every year, more than any other sport it seems, that are as important as the Olympic gold, and then the one that suffers is the Olympics, often, because it just doesn’t fit in the schedule.
“So I think it’s just a natural thing that happens. I think if you’ve won an Olympic gold medal in tennis you would like to win another one but more than anything, you just miss out on playing for your country, but at the same time you have a gold medal already so I’m not surprised.”
Wilander also thinks Nadal’s decision reveals a lot about his determination to continue competing for Grand Slam titles over the next few years.
“I think the rat race - in our eyes - influenced the decision for sure. But what it also tells me is that there is no rat race in between the three of them yet. I think they are all in the middle of their careers even though we might think they are towards the end. I think that as long as they are in it, to them it will seem like there is no ending.
“I think, if anything, it tells me that Rafa is listening to his body. This is not the last lap. This was not the last Roland-Garros he played. Hopefully he will play another Wimbledon at least. I think it just tells me with Roger and Rafa – ‘we are not gone we are just saving our bodies, we will be in this game for another three or four years’.
“Again, for them, those are just numbers at the moment and I don’t think they label one or the other the GOAT. In five years maybe, but right now? It tells me that they are not listening to us in the media!”
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