Tennis star Naomi Osaka, whose declaration last week that she would skip news conferences at the French Open in order to protect her mental health stirred impassioned debates over whether athletes’ customary post-competition media obligations harmed their emotional well-being, said Monday she would withdraw from the prestigious tournament in Paris.
Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam singles champion who represents Japan and lives in Los Angeles, also said in a statement on Twitter and Instagram that she had been suffering long bouts of depression since she won the U.S. Open in 2018 “and I have had a really hard time coping with that.” She expressed surprise that her decision to avoid news conferences had become a major topic of discussion and added, “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.”
Officials of tennis’ four Grand Slam tournaments — the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open — had issued a statement that posed the possibility she would be fined in increasing amounts or defaulted from tournaments if she continued to defy regulations that require players to appear at post-match news conferences. She was fined $15,000 for skipping a news conference after her first-round victory over Patricia Maria Tig on Sunday, though she did a brief on-court TV interview afterward.
Osaka is one of the sport’s brightest and most influential stars, and she has a portfolio of endorsements and sponsorships that include jeans, luxury items and a contract with Japanese TV network WOWOW. She is a megastar in Japan, where she was born and lived until she was 3, when her family moved to the United States. Her social activism in support of Black Lives Matter and her participation in protest marches also have elevated her profile.
Her decision to skip news conferences drew comments from other athletes — including No. 1-ranked Ash Barty and 13-time French Open winner Rafael Nadal — who said they respected her feelings but believed that responding to questions and promoting tournaments was simply part of their obligations.
Osaka has not fared as well on the clay of Roland Garros as she has on hard courts. She has never gotten past the third round at the French Open. Her older sister Mari, in a separate Instagram post, hinted that Naomi’s difficulties stemmed from an unidentified family member having told her she’s not as good on clay as on other surfaces, which triggered doubts in Naomi’s mind about her abilities to succeed.
Naomi Osaka said she wished she had been clearer in her initial statement and she hadn’t intended to minimize the impact of mental health problems.
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