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Naomi Osaka, the world No. 2 tennis player, has withdrawn from the French Open and announced she will step back from tennis after a controversy erupted when she skipped a post-match press conference.
Osaka, who won her opening match in the tournament on Sunday, also said she has suffered “long bouts of depression” since winning the U.S. Open in 2018.
The 23-year-old was fined $15,000 for refusing to attend the press conference and was warned she will face further consequences if she did so again. Under the rules, Osaka must still meet with the media for post-match press conferences upon request, reports The Associated Press.
In a statement on social media after her withdrawal, she said: “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,” she continued. “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 U.S. 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,” Osaka said.
“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 I announced it pre-emptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that. 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.”
Osaka took to Twitter shortly after she skipped the press conference to say she sees the press conferences, which have to be attended by the winner and loser of a match, as “kicking a person while they’re down.”
“We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me. I’ve watched many clips of athletes breaking down after a loss in the press room and I know you have as well. I believe that whole situation is kicking a person while they’re down and I don’t understand the reasoning behind it,” Osaka said.
“Me not doing press is nothing personal to the tournament and a couple journalists have interviewed me since I was young so I have a friendly relationship with most of them. However, if the organizations think that they can just keep saying, ‘do press or you’re gonna be fined,’ and continue to ignore the mental health of athletes that are the centerpiece of their cooperation then I just gotta laugh,” she said.