Naomi withdraws from French Open to focus on mental health

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World No. 2 Naomi Osaka of Japan on Monday withdrew from the French Open over her stand not to speak to the media due to her mental health.

Naomi, 23, defeated Romania’s Patricia Maria Tig on Sunday, but did not turn up to face media. This prompted the organisers to fine her $15,000 and be warned that she faced expulsion from Grand Slam tournaments if she continued to do so.

On Monday, Naomi posted a statement on Twitter, saying that she had “suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018” and that “it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences” because she gets “huge waves of anxiety before”.

“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. 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,” wrote the winner of four Grand Slam titles.

“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. Anyone that knows me knows that 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.”

Naomi apologised to journalists for a genuine reason.

“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 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,” she wrote.

“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 I announced it pre-emptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that.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.”

Naomi did not commit to how long her break would be.

“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 are all doing well and staying safe, love you guys I’ll see you when I see you,” she said.

Naomi Osaka has received backing from Martina Navratilova and Serena Williams after the Japanese tennis star pulled out of French Open on Monday.

Naomi’s decision to not speak to media due to mental health did not find acceptance with organisers of Grand Slam tournaments. She was fined $15,000 for skipping media interaction after her first round win and was also warned of suspension from future Grand Slam events.

“I am so sad about Naomi Osaka. I truly hope she will be ok. As athletes we are taught to take care of our body, and perhaps the mental & emotional aspect gets short shrift,” tweeted Martina, who added that Naomi’s decision was not just about press conferences.

“This is about more than doing or not doing a press conference. Good luck Naomi — we are all pulling for you!,” added the 18-time winner of Grand Slam singles titles.

Serena said she feels for Naomi and wanted to hug her but added that such moments has made her stronger.

“I feel for Naomi. I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it is like,” said Serena after her 7-6 (8/6), 6-2 win in first round over Irina-Camelia Begu at Roland Garros.

“We have different personalities, and people are different. Not everyone is the same. I am thick. Other people are thin,” said the 39-year-old.

“Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently. You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to,” said Serena, who has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles.

“I have been where I have been very difficult to walk in (to press conferences) in those moments. But, you know, it made me stronger.”

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