Japan’s four-time grand slam champion Naomi Osaka has stunned the tennis world by withdrawing from the 2021 French Open, explaining she had been suffering from depression for almost three years.
“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,” the world No.2 wrote on Twitter overnight.
“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 said in the build-up to the tournament at Roland Garros in Paris that she would not attend the obligatory press conferences for players after matches, saying the questioning by journalists stresses her mental health.
After winning her opening round match against Patricia Maria Tig on Sunday, her decision not to take part in the post-match press conference or subsequent interviews has been the biggest talking point of the tournament.
She was fined $15,000 ($19,400) by the Roland Garros referee, and all four grand slam organisers later issued a strongly worded statement warning of possible expulsion from the French Open and future majors if she failed to change her stance.
The Women’s Tennis Association said Osaka had, to date, earned $20 million in prize money, while Forbes confirmed she was the highest-paid female athlete in the world in 2020, earning more than $30 million off the court in sponsorship deals.
“This isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago,” the world No.2 posted on Twitter.
“I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my wellbeing is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris.
“I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer.”
Osaka, one of the biggest names in women’s sport, went on to say she had suffered from depression.
The French Tennis Federation, organisers of the tournament, called her withdrawal “unfortunate”.
President Gilles Moretton issued the following statement after Osaka’s announcement: “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 the quickest possible recovery and we look forward to having Naomi in our tournament next year. As all the grand slams, the WTA, the ATP, and the ITF, we remain very committed to all the athletes’ wellbeing and to continually improving every aspect of players’ experience in our tournaments, including with the media, like we have always strived to do.”
Meanwhile, the WTA said mental health was one of the highest priorities of the organisation.
“We remain here to support and assist Naomi in any way possible and we hope to see her back on the court soon,” it said in a statement.
Disastrous end to US 2018 slam for Osaka
After beating Serena Williams at Flushing Meadows to claim her first major in 2018, Osaka was booed by the crowd during the presentation ceremony as her victory was overshadowed by the American’s outburst after a row with the umpire.
Osaka said that since then she has struggled in the spotlight, suffering “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking to the world’s media.
Williams, speaking at the obligatory press conference after her first-round match in Paris, offered her support to Osaka and said she wished she could “give her a hug”.
“You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to, in the best way she thinks she can, and that’s the only thing I can say,” Williams said.
“I think she’s doing the best that she can.”
Osaka tweeted that she would take some time away from tennis and hoped later to meet the sport’s organisers to improve the system for “the players, press and fans”.
Wimbledon starts in four weeks while Osaka’s next tournament is scheduled to be in Berlin on grass in two weeks’ time.
Osaka lives in Los Angeles, and was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian-American father. She was expected to be one of the faces of the Tokyo Games.
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