June 1, 2021 -- Naomi Osaka, the four-time Grand Slam tennis champion from Japan, withdrew from the French Open on Monday after fallout from her decision to decline post-match media interviews last week, according to ESPN.
On Sunday, 23-year-old Osaka was warned that she could be disqualified or suspended from the French Open if she continued to boycott news conferences at the tournament. She was also fined $15,000 by Grand Slam organizers for failing to attend a news conference after her first-round win that day.
On Monday, she decided to withdraw from the tournament.
“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,” she wrote in a Twitter post.
Last week, Osaka said she wouldn’t take part in news conferences during the French Open, citing mental health reasons. On Monday, she added that she’s had “long bouts of depression” since winning her first major title at the U.S. Open in 2018 and has had a hard time coping with it. She also said she’s introverted and often wears headphones at tournaments to dull the 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,” she wrote in the Twitter post.
In Paris, Osaka said she was “already feeling vulnerable and anxious” and thought it would be better to skip the news conferences. She announced it last week because she felt the “rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that.” She said she also wrote to the tournament organizers privately and apologized, saying that she would be happy to speak with them after the French Open.
“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,” she wrote on Twitter.
French Tennis Federation President Gilles Moretton, who had previously described Osaka’s media boycott as a “phenomenal error,” said the organizers were “sorry and sad … that she had withdrawn from the tournament,” Fox Sports reported.
On Sunday, the four Grand Slam leaders issued a joint statement that said they understand the importance of protecting athletes’ mental health but that “rules are in place to ensure all players are treated exactly the same, no matter their stature, beliefs or achievement,” according to NBC Sports.
“A core element of the Grand Slam regulations is the responsibility of the players to engage with the media, whatever the result of their match, a responsibility which players take for the benefit of the sport, the fans and for themselves,” they wrote in the statement. “These interactions allow both the players and the media to share their perspective and for the players to tell their story.”
Later Monday, Nike, Mastercard, and other major sponsors announced their support of Osaka and her decision to withdraw from the French Open, according to CNN. Nike, which signed a sponsorship deal with Osaka in 2019, applauded her for opening up about her struggle with depression.
“Our thoughts are with Naomi,” the company said. “We support her and recognize her courage in sharing her own mental health experience.”