- Naomi Osaka, 23, officially withdrew from the French Open on May 31.
- The four-time Grand Slam tournament winner explained to fans on Instagram that this was the best decision for her mental health.
- She’s taking a break from the sport to work on self-care and has received an outpouring of celeb and athlete support.
Naomi Osaka, 23, withdrew from the French Open on May 31, shocking tennis fans and tournament officials alike as she announced that she would not be playing against Ana Bogdan in their second-round match.
In an Instagram post, the four-time Grand Slam singles champion explained more of her reasons for departing, including her own mental health concerns and her desire not to distract from the rest of the Grand Slam tournament.
After her announcement, tennis legends everywhere began responding to Naomi and sharing their support. Even athletes from other sports, like track star Usain Bolt, and celebs like Kerry Washington, rallied around her.
Naomi Osaka is getting everyone talking about the importance of caring for mental health as she explains exactly why she withdrew from the French Open.
Naomi spoke out about the French Open’s outdated rules.
In her post, Naomi explained that she chose not to participate in any news conferences at the French Open as an act of self-care. Public speaking heightens her anxiety. “Anyone that knows me knows I’m introverted,” she wrote in her post. “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.”
News conferences are a staple of the French Open, per The New York Times, and any player who is requested to attend a news conference must go, according to the tournament’s rules.
In a now-deleted Instagram post, Naomi wrote “If the organizations think they can keep saying, ‘do press or you’re going to get fined,’ and continue to ignore the mental health of the athletes that are the centerpiece of their cooperation then I just gotta laugh,” per The New York Times.
When Naomi made it clear that she wouldn’t bend to the competition’s rulebook, they fined her $15,000 for failing to appear at the conference after her first-round win over Patricia Maria Tig. French Open officials threatened Naomi with exclusion from this and future tournaments if she kept refusing to be interviewed, per The New York Times, but Naomi stood her ground and did what was right for her mental health.
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“I announced it preemptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that,” she said.
Naomi opened up about dealing with depression.
In the post, Naomi said she “would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly.” She told fans that she’s been struggling with depression since the U.S. Open in 2018, “and I have had a really hard time coping with that,” she shared.
She also mentioned that tennis matches make her social anxiety worse: “anyone that has seen me at tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety,” 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.”
Naomi received an outpouring of support from athletes and celebrities.
After Naomi posted her explanation, support from other athletes and celebrities poured in. “So proud of you. Take care of yourself and see you back winning soon! ❤️❤️❤️,” read Venus Williams’ comment. Coco Gauff wrote, “stay strong❤️.” Jordin Sparks echoed Naomi’s concerns about self-care: “You do what’s best for you. Period. Sending you so much love. 🤍🙌🏽.” Usain Bolt’s short but sweet comment included a trio of emojis, “🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿.”
Other tennis players spoke out publicly in support of Naomi’s decision. “Above all, it’s just really sad: for her, for the tournament, for the sport,” Martina Navratilova told The New York Times.
Pam Shriver, another former tennis star, said “I feel for her, and I feel the sport in general has mishandled this.” She added that the French Open should have made more of an effort to work with Naomi behind the scenes, “all the more so because the pandemic is still the elephant in the room and has been so hard on so many young people.”
Even tennis legend Billie Jean King spoke out on Twitter, calling Naomi’s decision “brave.”
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Nike, which sponsors Naomi, released a statement of support, per People. “Our thoughts are with Naomi. We support her and recognize her courage in sharing her own mental health experience.”
And celebs like Demi Lovato, Jameela Jamil, and Kerry Washington rallied around Naomi in their Instagram stories.
Demi added, “With you @naomiosaka”, alongside Jameela’s comment, “One way to prove that a young woman is wrong to want to protect her mental health from the media, is for the media to then spend a week bullying her…”
Demi Lovato / Instagram
Kerry wrote, “I stand with you and I applaud you @naomiosaka.”
Kerry Washington / Instagram
Now, Naomi is taking a break from tennis to take care of herself and refocus.
Naomi has decided to “take some time away from the court now,” she wrote in her post. “But when the time is right,” she added, “I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans.”
Then, she signed off with: “Anyways hope you are all doing well and staying safe, love you guys I’ll see you when I see you ♥️.”
Grand Slams officials responded to Naomi’s decision on June 1.
Those in charge of the French Open, Wimbledon, US Open, and Australian Open tennis tournaments released a statement, per ESPN. “On behalf of the Grand Slams, we wish to offer Naomi Osaka our support and assistance in any way possible as she takes time away from the court. She is an exceptional athlete and we look forward to her return as soon as she deems appropriate.”
The support comes from the same officials who threatened Naomi with disqualification or suspension on Sunday if she continued to skip news conferences.
The statement continued: “Mental health is a very challenging issue, which deserves our utmost attention. It is both complex and personal, as what affects one individual does not necessarily affect another. We commend Naomi for sharing in her own words the pressures and anxieties she is feeling and we empathize with the unique pressures tennis players may face.”
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