Ever wondered why something as easy as answering questions from members of the press is avoided and even shunned by players, who should crave the attention and exposure that this exercise can bring their way? Here’s a lowdown on tennis players, their issues with press conferences, recent examples of how players have struggled to cope and what can be done to make things better.
So why do some tennis players dislike press conferences? The answer may not be farther from the fact that these players are most often than not exposed to the mental torture caused by some degrading questions that some of the insensitive members of the press ask.
Nevertheless, it is still an obligation that players have to fulfill; otherwise they may face some sanction from the ruling powers.
The question then remains, why do tennis players have to do press conferences?
Is this relevant to the growth of the game?
And how can this exercise be more pleasurable for them?
The withdrawal from French Open, by the talented and multiple-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka following the backlash that her decision to not grant a press conference received from most of tennis governing bodies like the WTA and the FFT sparked off various reactions.
While some argued that it was okay for a player to not want to speak to the press, others especially the WTA said that it was mandatory for players to grant a press interview, regardless of the outcome of the game and the stature of the player.
In her tweet which said “people having no regard for the mental health of players” when they are being interviewed, she made a valid point that needs to considered.
You may have observed that that there are generally two types of responses that journalist get when they approach athletes to speak about the conduct of the game, their expectations and fears. One is the fun and enthusiastic athlete that is very willing to speak on the game and divulge all that the player knows, the other on the other hand is the unresponsive and bored athlete who will rather not be disturbed.
Rules Governing Tennis Press Conferences
The 2020 Official Grand Slam Rule Book series succinctly states that, at the close of the game, unless a player is seriously injured, that he or she is required to attend the media rounds and answer questions that are posed by both the host nation’s and foreign journalists.
It also states that failure to do this will incur a monetary fine. And that the player is expected to pay this fine to avoid further sanctions.
Format of Press Conferences at Tennis
A press conference is an arrangement designed to get information out of an individual. There is usually a large number of reporters present at the event.
While this sight may be exciting, it can also be very intimidating.
Why? This is so because of the format that this press conference(s) are made to take.
Truth is, most of these press conferences location are not ideal, the player is exhausted, and is still mandated to respond to so many questions by various reporters at the same time.
Advantages of Press Conferences for Tennis Players
It is true that press conferences are used to relay important information to the public, which is why different media houses are usually interested in the information. Without the press conference, that allows multiple recordings and questions from different journalist at the same time, the player will be subjected to answering the same questions by different pressmen and this can be very exhausting
There is a high possibility that the information that is revealed by the players will go viral, because a lot of media houses will be reporting the same story at the same time, albeit, it will be reported in their own words.
This exposure can be beneficial to the players’ image and his career. Although, negative press exposure can also be beneficial too, after all, it is believed that bad news travels quite fast.
Sharing of Workload
The task of interviewing a player alone may be daunting; the journalist will have to decide what question is relevant and what question is not.
Here a journalist can benefit from the intelligence and ingenuity of other interviewers.
There is no doubt that press conferences if well structured can give us more knowledge about the game.
It can also help the viewers empathize with the player; the human side of these super players is exposed when they share how they feel, especially when they explain why they took certain key decisions during the course of the game.
Disadvantages of Having a Tennis Press Conference
For every good reason there is to indulge in an act, there may be some drawbacks to this practice too. A major disadvantage of having a press conference, which may explain why some players like Naomi Osaka hate having them, could be:
Some journalist are very unprofessional with the questions they dish out to obviously tired athletes. Even though the press conference is designed to cover all types of questions, both the mean and fun questions. Some questions can be avoided or properly phrased.
Take the example of what happened after Tomas Berdych, a former top-10 player, lost at the 2015 edition of Wimbledon. He was asked by one of the journalists:
“How do you feel after that match? Do you feel in good shape going into the quarterfinals?”
A stunned Berdych replied:
Sorry? Excuse me?
Do you feel your form is good going into the quarterfinals?
Does he know right, or is he trying to make fun of me?
Such extreme instances are few and far between but is an indicator of how some of the reporters make life difficult for players.
Just after the close of the game, athletes are hounded by journalist, who will practice every trick to make the athlete divulge more than they are willing to. Sometimes, the location is not cozy leading to further exhaustion by the athletes and making the experience most undesirable.
Recommendations on how Press Conferences can be Improved
Imagine a scene where we are not enlightened on the individual struggles and every other aspect of the game? It will be quite tough to appreciate the game and in the long run, enjoy it. Who better then than the players, who are the real actors in the game to enlighten the public on the game?
On this note, press conferences are not a bad idea, but they can be well structured to achieve more response and cooperation from the players. A major way to do this would be:
- To prepare a comfortable location for the players, so that they can be relaxed.
- Extend the maximum 30 minutes allocated for resting for the players to probably a few hours.
- Screen and tailor the questions that are posed by these journalists, as some questions can drain mentally.
- Rather than coerce, the players can be induced to attend the press conference.
One of the recommendations made by Osaka herself in her column for the Time magazine was to allow players to take the odd day off from a press conference. She said:
“Perhaps we should give athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions.”
“I have numerous suggestions to offer the tennis hierarchy, but my No. 1 suggestion would be to allow a small number of “sick days” per year where you are excused from your press commitments without having to disclose your personal reasons. I believe this would bring sport in line with the rest of society.”
In this era of social media, press conferences may begin to outlive its importance. A major aim of press conferences is to disseminate news to the pubic, now, athletes have their personal channels through which they reach out to fans and address their numerous concerns.
The governing bodies like the Women Tennis Federation should address the concerns of these players, like the Japanese Naomi Osaka pointed out its effect on her mental health. There are ways the experience can be made more pleasurable and less exhausting for the players.