Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from Roland Garros the day after being fined for skipping media duties, the Japanese megastar announced on Twitter, while revealing significant problems with depression.
Osaka won her round one match against Patricia Maria Tig on the opening day of the French Open, playing on centre court, but then went through with her announced press boycott. It earned her a $US15,000 fine ($19,383), the threat of default from the Grand Slam event and possible suspension from future Slams.
Osaka on Tuesday (AEST) said that she would instead pull out of the event, citing mental health concerns; as she did when first announcing her controversial media stance. Her agent later confirmed the withdrawal. Osaka said that she would take a break from tennis, without specifying for how long.
“I think now 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,” Osaka wrote.
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French Tennis Federation president Gilles Moretton responded with a statement.
“The outcome of Naomi withdrawing from Roland Garros is unfortunate. We wish her the best and the quickest possible recovery, and we look forward to having Naomi in our tournament next year,” he said.
“As all the Grand Slams, the WTA, the ATP, and the ITF, we remain very committed to all athletes’ well-being and to continually improving every aspect of players’ experience in our tournament; including with the media, like we have always strived to do.”
Osaka said that she has “suffered long bouts of depression” since the 2018 US Open, which she won by beating Serena Williams in an explosive final. Osaka ended the match in tears despite her first major victory, after tantrums from Williams whipped the New York crowd into a frenzy.
She has since won three more Grand Slams and been world No.1, yet said that she had done so amid serious anxiety issues. Osaka could have reclaimed the top ranking in Paris, had she made the final and Australia’s Ashleigh Barty lost before the semis.
Osaka said that she would instead be focusing on her mental health. She was meant to play Ana Bogdan in the second round.
“This isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago,” Osaka said, referring to her press boycott announcement.
“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 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.”
Osaka did a brief on-court interview after her opening match at Roland Garros but declined her press conference. She also posted the following tweet.
She elaborated on her relationship with the media in her latest Twitter announcement.
“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 speaking to the world’s media,” Osaka said.
“I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can. 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.
“I announced it preemptively 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 the 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.
“Anyways, hope you all are doing well and staying safe. Love you guys, I’ll see you when I see you.”
A joint statement from the Grand Slams after Osaka’s press boycott claimed that efforts had been made to check on the world No.2’s mental health, while also reminding her of her media obligations.
The statement – co-signed by Jayne Hrdlicka, Tennis Australia chair and president; Gilles Moretton, French Tennis Federation president; Ian Hewitt, All England Lawn Tennis Club chairman; and Mike McNulty, USTA chairman of the board and president – took a hardline stance on Osaka’s boycott.
“We have advised Naomi Osaka that should she continue to ignore her media obligations during the tournament, she would be exposing herself to possible further Code of Conduct infringement consequences,” the statement said.
“As might be expected, repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament (Code of Conduct article III T.) and the trigger of a major offence investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions (Code of Conduct article IV A.3.).
“We want to underline that rules are in place to ensure all players are treated exactly the same, no matter their stature, beliefs or achievement. As a sport there is nothing more important than ensuring no player has an unfair advantage over another, which unfortunately is the case in this situation if one player refuses to dedicate time to participate in media commitments while the others all honour their commitments.”
Tennis media reacted to Osaka’s withdrawal.
“This entire situation is a mess. Terrible look for everybody involved tbh. And terrible for the sport,” Jose Morgado, a Portuguese writer and commentator, said on Twitter.
Veteran Sports Illustrated tennis journalist Jon Wertheim wrote: “My first thought was one of profound empathy for Osaka. My next was of deep disappointment, because it shouldn’t have come to this.”
New York Times contributor Ben Rothenberg wrote on Twitter: “This was a rough saga, but I think this was the best call for Naomi, unfortunate as it is for her and for tennis. If she’s not in a headspace to be under pressures of a Slam, best thing she can do is remove herself from that high-stress environment and focus on her well-being.”
Another tennis writer, Hannah Wilks, reacted furiously.
“I’d like to congratulate all four Grand Slams on handling this the worst, most insensitive way possible. You really outdid yourself this time, tennis,” she wrote.
Former men’s top 10 player Mardy Fish spoke out on the importance of mental health awareness, highlighting his own battle.
“Mental health is nothing to criticise. Nothing to joke about. Pls take your mental health seriously. Without my support system, I truly believe I would not be here today. Here for you @naomiosaka,” Fish wrote on Twitter.
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