Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open on Monday following the bitter fall-out from her decision to boycott all media activity, revealing she has “suffered long bouts of depression” and will now “take some time away from the court”.
“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 world number two wrote on Twitter.
The 23-year-old Japanese star was fined $15,000 on Sunday and threatened with disqualification after she refused to carry out a mandatory news conference following her first round win.
She claimed on the eve of Roland Garros that such post-match inquests were akin to “kicking people when they are down” and that they had a detrimental effect on her mental health.
“I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer,” the four-time Grand Slam title winner said in her statement.
“The truth is I have suffered bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 (when she beat Serena Williams for her first Slam title) and I have had a really hard time coping with that.”
She added: “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 out-dated in parts and I wanted to highlight that.
“I am going to take some time away from the court now.”
Osaka said she has apologised to organisers over the affair which has dominated the early stages of the French Open ever since she warned last week that she would not carry out any media activity.
Serena Williams said she sympathised with Osaka.
“I feel for her, I wish could give her a hug,” said the 23-time major winner after making the second round.
“We all have different personalities. I am thick, others are thin. It’s best to let her handle it the way she wants to.”
Martina Navratilova said she fully supported Osaka’s decision.
“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,” tweeted Navratilova.
“This is about more than doing or not doing a press conference. Good luck Naomi – we are all pulling for you!”
French Tennis Federation president Gilles Moretton had described her vow of silence as “a phenomenal error”.
On Monday, he said: “We are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka. The outcome of Naomi withdrawing from Roland Garros is unfortunate.”
“We wish her the best and the quickest possible recovery,” Moretton added as he read out a prepared statement without taking questions.
“We look forward to having Naomi in our tournament next year.”
– Highest earning female athlete –
Osaka is the world’s highest earning female athlete, making $37.4 million in 2020.
She burst onto the scene in 2018 with a maiden Slam win at the US Open.
She has gone on to win another title in New York as well as two Australian Opens.
Earlier Monday, Osaka’s coach said she wanted to use her superstar status to force change in the sport.
“Naomi has the opportunity to use her status to address problems and to initiate things,” Osaka’s Belgian coach Wim Fissette told German magazine Der Spiegel.
“In the United States, the subject is very topical at the moment, as athletes want more freedom in dealing with the press.
“So that they are simply not threatened right away with punishment if they don’t feel well for a day.”
Mari Osaka, a former player herself, said her sister had been struggling to cope in the run-up to Paris.
“Naomi mentioned to me before the tournament that a family member had come up to her and remarked that she’s bad on clay,” Mari wrote on Reddit.
“At every press conference she’s told she has a bad record on clay.
– ‘Not OK mentally’ –
“When she lost in Rome, she was not OK mentally. She was completely shattered and I think everyone’s remarks and opinions have gotten to her head.”
Teenage American player Coco Gauff tweeted her support for Osaka.
“Stay strong. I admire your vulnerability.”
Former world number one and two-time major winner Victoria Azarenka said: “The challenge today is to convince people of the value of truth, honesty, compassion and a concern for others.”
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