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Naomi Osaka withdraws from the French Open

Naomi Osaka hits the ball Open.
Naomi Osaka plays Patricia Maria Tig in the first round of the French Open on Sunday at Roland Garros.
(Christophe Ena / Associated Press)

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.

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Naomi Osaka’s decision to not participate in news conferences at the French Open is drawing reactions from Billie Jean King, Rafael Nadal and others.

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.

“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 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. The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the U.S. 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 apologize 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. 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 apologizing 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 sport 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 are all doing well and staying safe, love you guys I’ll see you when I see you (heart emjoi).”

Osaka, the No. 2 seed, had been scheduled to play Ana Bogdan on Wednesday in the second round.

Serena Williams won the first scheduled night session in French Open history, overcoming two set points to beat Irina-Camelia Begu 7-6 (6), 6-2.

Teenage sensation Coco Gauff, the No. 24 seed at the French Open, tweeted her support of Osaka. “Stay strong (heart). I admire your vulnerability,” Gauff said.

Gilles Morreton, president of the French Tennis Federation, issued a statement in which he wished Osaka well.

“First and foremost, we are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka. The outcome of Naomi withdrawing from Roland-Garros is unfortunate,” the statement said. “We wish her the best and the quickest possible recovery, and we look forward to having Naomi at our Tournament next year.”

He said that like the Women’s Tennis Assn., the Assn. of Tennis Professionals and the International Tennis Federation, the French Open remains, “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.”


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