Naomi Osaka withdraws from French Open amid row over press conferences

Naomi Osaka has announced her withdrawal from Roland Garros one day after she was fined $15,000 by the French Open and warned that she could face expulsion from the tournament following her decision not to speak with the press during the tournament.

Osaka, 23, who won her first match against Patricia Maria Tig and was scheduled to face Ana Bogdan in the second round, had released a statement last Wednesday stating her intention to skip her media obligations during Roland Garros because of the effects of her interactions with the press on her mental health.

In a statement on Monday announcing her withdrawal from the event, Osaka said she was leaving the tournament so that the focus could return to tennis after days of attention and widespread discussion.

“This isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago,” Osaka wrote on social media. “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.”

In her original statement, Osaka said she expected to be fined and Gilles Moretton, the French Tennis Federation (FFT) president, said last Thursday that his organisation would penalise Osaka.

However, the organisation offered no official response until the lengthy statement signed by the four grand slam tournaments on Sunday after Osaka’s first-round win. Their heavy handed approach to Osaka has been criticised as a disproportionate response, forcing Osaka to choose between either risking significant punishment or else resuming the press duties that have her anxiety. The attention Osaka has received was only compounded by the announcement of her fine and possible default.

On Thursday evening Osaka’s older sister, Mari, attempted to support her sister by providing further context of her struggles in a post on Reddit. She said Osaka had been hurt by frequent questioning about her ability on clay and that she felt she was being “told that she has a bad record on clay.” After losing in the first round of the WTA tournament in Rome, Mari Osaka said her sister was “not OK mentally.” After some criticism, Mari Osaka deleted her post.

In her withdrawal statement, the four-time grand slam champion said she has suffered from “long bouts of depression” since the 2018 US Open final. Osaka defeated Serena Williams then to win her first grand slam title in a controversial match that similarly led to significant attention and queries from the media.

“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 wrote.

Osaka concluded her statement by saying she suffers “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking with the media. “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,” she wrote.

Osaka has received support from numerous public figures since her announcement. “Stay strong. I admire your vulnerability,” wrote Coco Gauff in response.

Billie Jean King added on Twitter: “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.”

Martina Navratilova tweeted her best wishes, saying: “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 and 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!

“And kudos to Naomi Osaka for caring so much about the other players. While she tried to make a situation better for herself and others, she inadvertently made it worse. Hope this solution, pulling out, as brutal as it is will allow her to start healing and take care of her SELF.”

Two hours after Osaka’s announcement, Moretton conducted a press conference in which he read out a statement in French and English, calling Osaka’s withdrawal “unfortunate” and wishing her “the quickest possible recovery.” He left without fielding any questions from the press.

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