Mental health: Stephens says it’s vital to keep talking

Sports

United States’s Sloane Stephens reacts after missing a point as she plays against Czech Republic’s Karolina Muchova during their third round match on day 7, of the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, Saturday, June 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

PARIS (AP) — Former U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens wants more discussions about mental health to help people both inside and outside of tennis talk freely about what is troubling them.

“Absolutely. I feel like it’s not spoken about enough,” she said Saturday after winning her third-round match at the French Open. “I think it’s definitely (a) top priority for everyone, not just tennis players but also you guys who are dealing with life in general.”

Four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka put a renewed focus on mental health when she pulled out of the French Open on Monday and cited difficulties in dealing with “huge waves of anxiety.”

Players may keep far too silent, the 28-year-old Stephens said, when what they really need is to feel they can open up to others.

“I feel like a lot of players on our tour suffer in silence. I think that is not cool and not fair and we should definitely approach it differently,” she said. “The more support, the better. I think not only for us girls supporting each other but for the tour to be able to support us in different ways is super helpful.”

Stephens, an American who won the U.S. Open in 2017 and was runner-up at the French Open in 2018, says rivals may really need each other to cope off court.

“As competitors and colleagues, I think it’s important to support each other just because, honestly, on the road every single week we’re really all we have,” she said. “We’re the same faces that we see all the time. I think it’s super important to be able to support each other through, you know, the ups and downs, because obviously tennis is super emotional.”

Second-ranked Osaka’s decision to withdraw from Roland Garros drew support for her courage in some quarters but also some hostility on social networks.

The multiplication of often explicit and offensive criticism on social networks has also made it too easy for people’s mental health to be impacted.

“Obviously we live in a world where there is the internet … all these things that creep into your mind,” Stephens said.

The psychological effects of the coronavirus pandemic, during which many people were alone and in isolation for long months, have increased the need for more communication.

“It’s really important to be able to talk to people, talk to someone, just about what you’re feeling, what you’re going through,” Stephens said. “It’s not easy to just pretend that everything is great when it’s not.”

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