Four-time grand slam champion Naomi Osaka has sensationally withdrawn from the French Open.
The world No. 2 released a statement on Tuesday morning AEST confirming she would take no further part in the tournament after hersparked controversy.
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“Hey everyone, this isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago. I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can go back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris,” she wrote on social media.
“I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer. More importantly I would never trivialise mental health or use the term lightly.
“The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that. 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.
“Though the tennis press has always been kind to me (and I wanna apologise especially to all the cool journalists who I may have hurt), I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media. I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can.”
Osaka explained why she announced her pre-tournament press boycott and added she was going to take some time away from tennis.
“So here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences,” Osaka wrote. “I announced it pre-emptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that.
“I wrote privately to the tournament apologising and saying that I would be more than happy to speak with them after the tournament as Slams are intense.
“I’m gonna take some time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans.”
Debate rages over Osaka’s call
Osaka’s decision to— citing a lack of care for athletes’ mental health — as pundits clamoured to defend the press and fellow players distanced themselves from the Japanese star.
, and the four grand slams took the sensational step of issuing a joint statement if she failed to meet her media obligations.
Osaka defeated Romania’s Patricia Tig on Sunday evening to progress through to the second round of Roland Garros, where she would have faced world No. 102 Ana Bogdan.
The 23-year-old was subsequently fined US$15,000 ($AUD19,385) for not attending a news conference following the first-round win.
Osaka came under scrutiny for avoiding speaking to the press, when many tennis experts interpreted her original statement as a way of saying she didn’t want her self-esteem dented by tough questions about her record on clay.
Journalist Ben Rothenberg outlined this perspective on the No Challenges Remaining podcast.
“My first thought when I read this (Osaka’s statement) was, ‘Wow, she must be so low on confidence going into the French Open’. She’s envisaging what the loss is going to be like there, or bracing herself for a loss rather than going out and winning a third grand slam in a row,” Rothenberg said.
“She’s not feeling it going into this French Open, she’s not feeling up to it.”
Patrick McEnroe, who won the French Open doubles title in 1989, told Good Morning America Osaka deserves “a lot of credit” for highlighting issues like mental health, but that as a professional tennis player she needed to honour her obligations.
Sister tries to clarify Naomi’s stance
on Monday by saying internal doubts were behind her sibling’s decision to boycott the media. Mari added Osaka wanted to “block everything out”.
“When she lost in Rome r1 she was not OK mentally. Her confidence was completely shattered and I think that everyone’s remarks and opinions have gotten to her head and she herself believed that she was bad on clay,” Mari wrote online.
“This isn’t true and she knows that in order to do well and have a shot at winning Roland Garros she will have to believe that she can. That’s the first step any athlete needs to do, believe in themselves.
“So her solution was to block everything out. No talking to people who is (sic) going to put doubt in her mind. She’s protecting her mind hence why it’s called mental health.”
However, Mari quickly deleted her post and apologised after it sparked a huge backlash, with people questioning why Osaka was talking about mental health when it seemed she was looking to avoid criticism about her performances.
“OK so I f***ed up. My words are coming across so horribly to a lot of people who think taking care of mental health is strategic,” Mari wrote.
“I didn’t emphasise the fact that Naomi is dealing with a ton of s**t and honestly fighting for the care of mental health in my post so now a lot of people are taking it as ‘She doesn’t want to hear criticism’.”