World’s second ranked tennis player Naomi Osaka refused to cave in to pressure from French Open authorities to attend media briefings and decided to quit the Grand Slam on Monday (May 31) to protect her “mental well-being”.
The Roland Garros had earlier fined Osaka $15,000 for not speaking with journalists after her first round win on Monday and threatened to expel her from the remainder of the tournament. Later, the organisers of all four Grand Slam tournaments (Australian, US, Wimbledon and French) issued a joint letter to the Japanese player, asking her to reconsider her decision to not to speak with media.
The four-time Grand Slam champion had last week tweeted expressing her desire to skip her media duties to protect her mental well-being. On Monday, she tweeted again announcing her withdrawal.
“This isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago,” Osaka wrote on Twitter.
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) May 31, 2021
“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.”
The 23-year-old player has created sensation in the world of sports by taking a stance, which has received mixed response from various quarters.
Osaka said she had suffered from depression since 2018. “The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the U.S. Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that,” she said.
Responses to Osaka’s withdrawal
An overwhelming number of sportspersons has sided and sympathised with Osaka, while maintaining that dealing with media was part of their job.
Japan Tennis Association (JTA) Executive Director Toshihisa Tsuchihashi said, “The first thing to be considered is Ms Osaka’s health. I wish her the earliest possible recovery.”
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said that people of Japan are concerned about the woman who will be one of the faces of this year’s Olympic Games.
“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,” said former World No. 1 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!” said 18-Grand Slam title winner Martina Navratilova.
Vickie Skorji, who manages a helpline in Japan, told Reuters that society needed to be “more respectful and supportive” of mental health.
“Who has asked her how she is doing? She put out a statement and said ‘I need to take care of myself,’ and she’s been punished,” Skorji told Reuters.
“I think she is courageous and needs support.”
Tennis great Billie Jean King said, “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.”
Athletes in other sports also came forward to air their views. “You shouldn’t ever have to make a decision like this — but so damn impressive taking the high road when the powers that be don’t protect their own. Major respect,” wrote NBA All Star Steph Curry.
Osaka earned $55.2 million over the past 12 months according to sports business website Sportico, much of it from sponsorship deals with major companies in Japan and the United States.