Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open on Monday and wrote on Twitter that she would be taking a break from competition, a dramatic turn of events for a four-time Grand Slam champion who said she experiences “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking to the media and revealed she has “suffered long bouts of depression.”
Osaka’s agent, Stuart Duguid, confirmed in an email to The Associated Press that the world’s No. 2-ranked tennis player was pulling out before her second-round match at the clay-court tournament in Paris.
The stunning move came a day after Osaka, a 23-year-old who was born in Japan and moved with her family to the U.S. at age 3, was fined $15,000 for skipping the postmatch news conference after her first-round victory at the French Open. She also was threatened by all four Grand Slam tournaments with possible additional punishment, including disqualification or suspension, if she continued with her intention — which Osaka revealed last week on Twitter — to not “do any press during Roland Garros.”
She framed the matter as a mental health issue, saying that it can create self-doubt to have to answer questions after a loss.
“First and foremost we are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka. The outcome of Naomi withdrawing from Roland Garros is unfortunate,” French tennis federation president Gilles Moretton said Monday. “We wish her the best and the quickest possible recovery. And we look forward to having Naomi in our tournament next year.”
Moretton said the four major tournaments, and the professional tennis tours, “remain 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 always have.”
In Monday’s post, Osaka spoke about dealing with depression since the 2018 U.S. Open, which she won by beating Serena Williams in a final filled with controversy.
“I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly,” Osaka wrote, explaining that speaking with the media makes her anxious.
“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. “I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer.”
She continued: “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. … I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media.”
Williams was asked about Osaka on Monday after winning her opening match in the first scheduled night session in French Open history.
“I feel for Naomi. I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it’s like. … I’ve been in those positions,” Williams said. “We have different personalities, and people are different. Not everyone is the same. I’m thick; other people are thin. Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently. 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. I think she’s doing the best that she can.”
Osaka has never been past the third round on the French Open’s red clay. It takes seven victories to win a Grand Slam title, which she has done four times at hard-court tournaments: the U.S. Open in 2018 and 2020; the Australian Open in 2019 and this February.
“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,” she wrote.
Tennis players are required to attend news conferences if requested to do so. The maximum fine of $20,000 is not a big deal to Osaka, the world’s highest-earning female athlete thanks to endorsement contracts totaling tens of millions of dollars.
“Mental health and awareness around it is one of the highest priorities to the WTA,” the women’s tennis tour said in a statement emailed by a spokeswoman. “We have invested significant resources, staffing and educational tools in this area for the past 20-plus years and continue to develop our mental health support system for the betterment of the athletes and the organization. We remain here to support and assist Naomi in any way possible and we hope to see her back on the court soon.”
Other players, notably 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal and No. 1-ranked Ash Barty, have said they respect Osaka’s right to take a stance but explained that they consider speaking to reporters part of the job.
After Osaka’s post Monday, several athletes in tennis and other sports tweeted their support.
Martina Navratilova, an 18-time Grand Slam champion, wrote: “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. This is about more than doing or not doing a press conference. Good luck Naomi- we are all pulling for you!”
Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry wrote that it was “impressive taking the high road when the powers that be dont protect their own. major respect.”
AP Sports Writers Sam Petrequin in Paris and Steven Wine in Miami contributed to this report.
More AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Naomi Osaka’s statement about withdrawing from French Open
Naomi Osaka tweeted the following statement announcing her withdrawal from the French Open on Monday:
“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. I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not idea 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 US 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 rally 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 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 (heart emoji)”
Tennis stars, others lend support to Naomi Osaka
Reaction to the decision of tennis star Naomi Osaka to withdraw from the French Open on Monday, citing anxiety:
“I feel for Naomi. Not everyone is the same. I’m thick. Other people are thin. Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently. You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to and the best way she thinks she can. That’s the only thing I can say: I think she is doing the best she can.” — Serena Williams.
“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. This is about more than doing or not doing a press conference. Good luck Naomi- we are all pulling for you!” — Martina Navratilova.
“It’s incredibly brave that Naomi Osaka has revealed her truth about her struggle with depression. Right now, the important thing is that we give her the space and time she needs. We wish her well. — Billie Jean King.
“You shouldnt ever have to make a decison like this-but so damn impressive taking the high road when the powers that be dont protect their own. major respect.” — Warriors guard Stephen Curry.
“Love, respect, and positive energy your way.” — Cavaliers forward Kevin Love.
“It’s so sad that we are in a time that when a young person tells you they need help or a break, people respond with anger and a lack of support! I stand with you … Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.” — Former WNBA star Lisa Leslie.
Serena says dealing with media scrutiny made her stronger
Serena Williams says she can identify with anxiety regarding news conference scrutiny, and has experienced it frequently after matches.
“Many of them I’ve been into where I’ve been — very difficult to walk in in those moments,” she said. “But you know, it made me stronger.”
Williams made her comments in a post-match news conference following her first-round victory Monday at the French Open. She spoke hours after four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka withdrew from the tournament, saying in a statement that she has dealt with long bouts of depression since winning a tumultuous final against Williams in the 2018 U.S. Open.
Last week Osaka said she would not participate in the standard post-match news conferences during Roland Garros, citing her decision as a mental health matter because media questions can create self-doubt.
“I feel for Naomi,” Williams said. “Not everyone is the same. I’m thick. Other people are thin. Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently.
“You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to and the best way she thinks she can. That’s the only thing I can say: I think she is doing the best she can.”
Few athletes have been under the media spotlight like Williams, 39, who is chasing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title. When the glare becomes too intense, she said, it’s important to reach out for support.
“You really have to step forward and make an effort, just as in anything, and say, ‘I need help with A, B, C and D,’ and talk to someone. I think that’s so important to have a sounding board, whether it’s someone at the WTA, or someone in your life, or maybe it’s someone you talk to on a weekly basis.
“I’ve been in that position too, and I’ve definitely had opportunities to talk to people and just get things off my chest that I can’t necessarily talk about to anyone in my family or anyone I know.”
There were moments of anxiety for Williams even in a first-round victory that will be quickly forgotten. She took a spill on the clay and saved two set points before eliminating Irina-Camelia Begu 7-6 (6), 6-2 under the lights during the first scheduled night session in tournament history.
Williams struggled with her serve but played aggressively, such as when she raced forward facing a set point to hit a risky swinging volley for a winner.
“I did not want to lose that first set,” she said.
Williams improved to 77-1 in first-round Slam matches. The loss came in Paris in 2012.