American star Venus Williams said she has never suffered at press conferences, telling French Open reporters: “I know every person asking me a question cannot play as well as me”.
Williams was responding to Naomi Osaka’s belief that post-match media inquests were harmful to her mental health and equated them to “kicking a person when they’re down”.
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Osaka withdrew from Roland Garros on Tuesday but the 40-year-old Williams said she had her own defence mechanism, developed over a career which has yielded seven majors.
“For me personally how I deal with it was that I know every single person asking me a question can’t play as well as I can and never will,” she said.
“So no matter what you say or what you write, you’ll never light a candle to me.
“That’s how I deal with it. But each person deals with it differently.”
Tennis fans loved Venus’ response. Sports writer Liz Roscher tweeted: “Venus is a legend, now and forever.”
TV presenter Nicky Crosby wrote: “I can’t love this anymore from Venus Williams. What a BURN!!”
The Tennis Podcast tweeted: “As the name suggests, she’s otherworldly,”
Williams, playing the French Open for the 24th time and a runner-up 19 years ago, saw her 89th Grand Slam end at the first hurdle as Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova eased to a 6-3, 6-1 win.
Osaka said her mental health struggles began in 2018 when she won the first of her four majors at the US Open in a controversial final against Serena Williams. She was just 20, stood awkwardly courtside, covering her face with her visor as the crowd booed after Serena was involved in an explosive confrontation with the umpire.
Serena said she “feels for” Osaka and has also experienced “very difficult” press conferences in her career.
“The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi. I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it’s like,” the 39-year-old said after her first-round 7-6 6-2 win over Irina-Camelia Begu.
“We have different personalities, and people are different. Not everyone is the same. I’m thick. Other people are thin.
“Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently. You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to...
“I’ve been where I’ve been very difficult to walk in (to press conferences) in those moments. But, you know, it made me stronger.”
Serena, seeded seventh this year, saved two set points in a first-set tie-break as she started her latest bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title.
— with AFP