Japanese Tennis player Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the French Open after a row over her refusal to speak to the media. In her tweet, announcing the decision, she also revealed that she “suffered long bouts of depression” since winning her first grand slam in the 2018 US Open.
The four-time Grand slam champion said last week that she would not do press conferences at the tournament to protect her mental health. “I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one,” she tweeted. “I believe that the whole situation is kicking a person while they’re down”.
On Sunday, Osaka was fined $15,000 for not attending the post-match press conference. She was also threatened by the Grand Slam organizers of expulsion if she continued to boycott the press. She announced her decision to quit the tournament following this.
“I’m gonna take some time away from the court now”, she said. She also revealed her long-standing battle with depression. “Anyone that knows me knows I’m introverted, and anyone that has seen me at the tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety.” She was already feeling “vulnerable and anxious” about the French Open and the press conferences, she wrote. She was exercising “self-care” by choosing to skip the conferences.
After initially criticizing her withdrawal, Gilles Moretton, president of the French Tennis Federation (FTF), later issued a statement saying, “we are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka”. “We wish her the best and the quickest possible recovery, and we look forward to having Naomi at our Tournament next year”.
In the wake of the episode, a lot of people including athletes across different sports have come in support of Osaka. Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Billie Jean King, and Martina Navratilova tweeted in support of her. “I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it’s like,” Serena Williams said.
She also found support pouring onto her for raising and prioritizing the issue of mental health. The decision of the FTF to fine her and threaten her received a lot of criticism. Its policy of forcing the athletes to speak to the press by being insensitive to their mental well-being received a lot of flak.
Naomi Osaka, aged 23, is currently the world number two, having won four Grand Slam tournaments. Though Osaka was born in Japan, she grew up in the United States. She won her first Grand Slam – the US Open – aged 20. Since then she rose to become a global superstar, becoming world number one in 2019 and winning three more Grand Slam championships.