Defending celebrity golf champion Mardy Fish reflects on Osaka and athletes’ mental health

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When Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open this spring, then did not enter Wimbledon, due to anxiety, Mardy Fish had a good idea of what she was going through.

Fish, who played professional tennis for 15 years, and is the defending celebrity golf champion, spoke to the media ahead of the American Century Championship golf tournament at Edgewood-Tahoe, July 7-11.

Fish said he endured similar bouts of mental health issues while competing at a high level in tennis, and now in golf.

“Mental health is really close, near and dear to me. I have had a history of it,” Fish said. “I’m very open about it because I’m a big sports fan and always have been. And I wanted a success story to sort of lean back on and to be able to follow as I went through my mental health issues and I didn’t have anyone that was close to me or understood necessarily what was going on.”

Fish said he has spoken to Osaka a few times. He said her refusal to talk to the media was not due to being shy but is related to her recent success and demands on her.

Osaka said she will represent the host country Japan in this Summer Olympics. It will be her first competition since withdrawing from the French Open at the end of May to take a mental health break.

She won the Australian Open in February and will be among the favorites to win gold in the Olympics.

Osaka, who was born in Japan, is a former No. 1-ranked player (currently No. 2) and is the highest-earning female athlete in the world.

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Fish said being a high-profile athlete can be difficult for someone not used to the spotlight.

“People get pointed questions when you’re playing that are difficult sometimes to answer. And so she tried to handle it that way. The French Open, the ITF that runs the Grand Slams for tennis, I don’t think they were necessarily prepared to have that conversation, to understand what to do with it,” Fish said. “She is a person that understands history, her place in history as well. And she wants to be one of the best players of all time.

“So just to think that she just pulled out just because she didn’t want to talk to the media or because she didn’t want to have the conversation is way off. I was proud of her for talking about it. I was proud of her for coming out with it.”

Fish said Osaka meant well when she pulled out of the French Open and was trying to highlight mental health issues for herself and anyone else going through similar issues.

“She’s a very shy person. And that doesn’t necessarily exclude you from just being able to talk to the media, just because you’re shy. It doesn’t work like that. But I assure you that’s not the reason that she didn’t want to talk to them,” Fish said.

Fish said he still takes medication every day to help with his mental health issues

“I hope that she’s able to feel comfortable enough to sort of dive into how she feels and what she’s going through because it will help a ton of people, especially in her position,” he said.

Jim Krajewski covers high school and youth sports for the Reno Gazette Journal. Follow him on Twitter @RGJPreps. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com

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