One day after being fined $15,000 for her media boycott at the French Open, world No. 2 Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the Grand Slam event and said she will “take some time away from the court now.”
“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 on social media. “I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and message could have been clearer.”
Osaka, 23, is the world’s highest paid female athlete. She also revealed in her post she has battled depression and anxiety since winning her first major at the 2018 U.S. Open and said speaking to the media often makes her nervous. She apologized to any media members she might have offended with her initial comments.
“I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media,” she said. “I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try and engage and give [the media] the best answers I can.”
Osaka had won 15 straight Grand Slam matches after winning the U.S. Open, Australian Open and her first match Sunday at the French.
Wimbledon begins June 28.
Mari Osaka, Naomi’s sister, took to Reddit to give some context to her sister’s initial decision to skip media in Paris, writing:
“Naomi mentioned to me before the tournament that a family member had come up to her and remarked that she’s bad at clay. At every press conference she’s told she’s has a bad record on clay. When she lost in Rome r1 she was not ok mentally. Her confidence was completely shattered and I think that everyone’s remarks and opinions have gotten to her head and she herself believed that she was bad on clay. This isn’t true and she knows that in order to do well and have a shot at winning Roland Garros she will have to believe that she can. That’s the first step any athlete needs to do, believe in themselves.
“So her solution was to block everything out. No talking to people who is going to put doubt in her mind. She’s protecting her mind hence why it’s called mental health. So many people are picky on this term thinking you need to have depression or have some sort of disorder to be able to use the term mental health.
“I don’t know what she is going to do in the future when the tournament pushes back and threatens to default her but I fully support my sister’s actions because she’s just trying to do what’s best for her. Tennis players don’t get paid to do press conferences. They only get paid when they win matches.
“There is the argument that she can afford to skip while others can’t. What if they want to and she’s setting precedent so that they can in the future if wanted? When I lost my one wta match where I had to do a press conference afterwards I broke down in the room unfortunately and then saw headlines after of me, crying. It was embarrassing and it’s forced on players. Some can take it and some struggle with it.”
Osaka won the U.S. Open in New York last fall while advocating for the African-American victims of police violence. She wore seven masks across seven matches, each honoring a different victim.
Asked on-court by ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi what message she hoped to send with her seven masks, she calmly responded, “Well, what was the message that you got was more the question? I feel like the point is to make people start talking.”
Martina Navratilova, the 18-time Grand Slam champion, suggested it was less of a “mental health issue,” and more of a “mental issue.”
“Before the U.S. Open, Naomi Osaka took the attention off of herself by saying she’s going to have seven masks, so good attention off the court,” Navratilova said on Tennis Channel. “This one is a bit of a negative because you’re just saying to the players, ‘Well, maybe I’m not feeling so confident emotionally and mentally.’ It’s not a mental health issue, it’s a mental issue for a tennis player.
“She’s a four-time champion, she’s a tennis player, she’s a pro. You sign up for this so if the person asks you the same question that you answered before on another day, you just say, ‘Ask another question.’ You just deal with it. You just gotta…woman up here.”