Naomi Osaka Withdraws From French Open Citing Mental Health Reasons
Four-time Grand Slam champion and current number two tennis player, Naomi Osaka officially withdraws from the French Open after she was fined US$15,000 for not meeting the press for her post-match news conference after her first-round win, citing mental health reasons.
Osaka won against Romanian player Patrica Maria Tig in the first round and while the Japanese-American superstar did a courtside post-match interview, she refused to attend the post-match news conference. On her decision, Osaka said: "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."
Due to this, she was warned that she could be thrown out of the French Open should she continue to refuse post-match news conference appearances. Osaka took it upon herself to withdraw from the tournament instead, posting a powerful statement on her Twitter about the need to look after her mental health.
"I think the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris," said the tennis champion.
"The truth is I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that. Though the tennis press has always been kind to me (and I want to apologise 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's empowering statement raises questions on athletes' obligations to face the media, attracted support from her fellow athletes and even brought to light the need to focus on the mental well-being of players in the sporting world. Osaka has always been a vocal athlete—speaking on Black victims of police brutality and wearing masks that don their names during her previous tournaments, advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, advocating for equal pay for women in sport, speaking out on #StopAsianHate and opening up the discussion of being biracial and identity in homogenous Japan.
She ends her statement with a hopeful tone. "I’m going to 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."
Gilles Moretton, president of the French Tennis Federation who earlier described Osaka's boycott as a "phenomenal error", said: "We are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka that she has withdrawn from the tournament." Osaka also said that she has apologised to the organisers.
Meanwhile, the four Grand Slam tournaments—Wimbledon, French, Australian and US Opens—said that they had written to Osaka to "check on her well-being and offer support" but had also reminded her of her "obligations... the consequences of not meeting them and the rules should equally apply to all players."
Osaka might be sitting out on this tournament but her outspokenness has reminded many that mental well-being is just as important as physical well-being.