Naomi Osaka withdraws from French Open to focus on mental health

Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the French Open to focus on her mental health.

“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 in a statement posted to her Twitter account on Sunday.

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Roland-Garros announced on Sunday that it fined Osaka $15,000 for not talking to the media after she won her first match of the French Open.

Osaka, one of The Associated Press's Athletes of the Year in 2020, last week said she would not speak to the press at the tournament, citing her mental health.

She said she often sees people who have “no regard for athletes mental health,” adding that “this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one.”

The tournament said should Osaka “continue to ignore her media obligations during the tournament, she would be exposing herself to possible further Code of Conduct infringement consequences,” including default from the tournament and future Grand Slam suspensions.

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The next day, Osaka said she would sit out the tournament altogether and “take some time away from the court.”

Osaka, the highest paid female athlete in the world, opened up about her mental health struggles in her statement, including her “long bouts of depression.”

“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 US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that,” Osaka wrote.

She also addressed her decision not to speak with the media at the tournament, writing that she gets “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking to the press.

“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,” Osaka wrote. “I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can.”

She said she announced this decision preemptively because “the rules are quite outdated in parts” and she wanted to “highlight that.”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,” Osaka continued.

She said “when the time is right” she wants to “work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans.”

In a statement to The Hill, the president of the French Tennis Federation (FFT) said the group is “sorry and sad” for Osaka, adding that the outcome of her withdrawal was “unfortunate.”

He also said the federation remains “very committed” to athletes’ wellbeing and “continually improving” aspects of the player experience, including with the media.

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

“As all the Grand Slams, the WTA, the ATP and the ITF, we remain very committed to all athletes’ wellbeing and to continually improving every aspect of players’ experience in our Tournament, including with the Media, like we have always strived to do,” he added.