Naomi Osaka is making a stand for her own mental health by withdrawing from the French Open
Naomi Osaka became a household name when she won the U.S. Open last summer — and did it while wearing a face mask with the name of a different Black person murdered by racial violence on each day of the tournament. She’s an international tennis star on the same level as legends like Serena Williams, but after some controversy, she’s announced that she’s quitting the ongoing French Open tournament.
Osaka announced her decision to withdraw from the French Open on Twitter, where she said the move was to protect her mental health.
“I think the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris,” she wrote. “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 trivialize mental health or use the term lightly.”
Osaka went on in her statement to explain that, since the 2018 U.S. Open, she’s suffered from “long bouts of depression.” She explained that speaking to the public and reporters at mandatory press conferences during tournaments gives her “huge waves of anxiety.”
“Here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences,” Osaka wrote. “I announced it preemptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that.”
Osaka announced early on that she didn’t want to participate in press conferences, even though they’re mandatory for French Open players, and she was fined $15,000 for her decision. Tournament officials also warned that if she continued to skip press conferences, she could be kicked out of the tournament. The controversy has sparked a larger debate in the tennis and sport communities about the responsibility of athletes to make themselves available to reporters who often ask probing and invasive questions.
In a press conference after Osaka announced she was withdrawing from the French Open, French Tennis Federation President Gilles Moretton called the entire situation “unfortunate” and wished Osaka a speedy recovery. Notably, he did not take questions from reporters.
“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,” Osaka wrote at the end of her statement.