Naomi Osaka withdraws from French Open, takes break from tennis

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Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open on Monday and said she’s suffered “long bouts of depression,” according to her social media, one day after tennis’ Grand Slams threatened disqualification or suspension if she continued to skip press conferences.

Osaka announced last Wednesday that she would not do press conferences during the tournament, citing mental health and accepting that she would get fined.

“This isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago,” was posted on Osaka’s social media Monday. “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.”

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Osaka suffered “long bouts of depression” since winning her first or four major titles at the 2018 U.S. Open, “and I have had a really hard time coping with that,” according to the post.

Osaka, the world’s second-ranked player, posted that she will “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.”

“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,” was posted on Osaka’s social media.

French Tennis Federation president Gilles Moretton called Osaka’s withdrawal unfortunate.

“First and foremost, we are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka,” he said. “We wish her the best and the quickest possible recovery. We look forward to having Naomi in our tournament next year. As all the Grand Slams, the WTA, the ATP, and the ITF, we remain very committed to all athletes’ well-being and to continually improving every aspect of players’ experience in our tournament, including with the media, like we have always tried to do.”

Later Monday, Serena Williams said she learned of Osaka’s withdrawal just before her post-match press conference after her first-round win in the first-ever French Open night session match.

“I feel for Naomi,” said Williams’ Osaka’s opponent in that 2018 U.S. Open final. “I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it’s like. Like I said, I’ve been in those positions. We have different personalities, and people are different. 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, in the best way she thinks she can, and that’s the only thing I can say. I think she’s doing the best that she can.”

Osaka won her first-round match over Romanian Patricia Maria Țig 6-4, 7-6 (4) on Sunday.

She was fined $15,000 when she skipped the press conference, drawing a stunning warning from all four Grand Slam tournaments that she could face stiffer penalties, including disqualification or even suspension, if she continues to avoid the media.

Hours later, Osaka turned to her preferred method of communication these days, tweeting: “anger is a lack of understanding. change makes people uncomfortable.”

Tennis players are required to attend news conferences if requested to do so. The maximum fine, of course, is not a big deal to Osaka, the world’s highest-earning female athlete thanks to endorsement contracts totaling tens of millions of dollars.

She framed the matter as a mental health issue, saying that it can create self-doubt to have to answer questions after a loss.

The fine was assessed by the tournament referee at Roland Garros and announced in a joint statement from the president of the French tennis federation, Gilles Moretton, and counterparts at the sport’s other majors: Tennis Australia President Jayne Hrdlicka, All England Club Chairman Ian Hewitt and U.S. Tennis Association President Mike McNulty.

“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 said. “These interactions allow both the players and the media to share their perspective and for the players to tell their story.”

They said they understand the importance of protecting athletes’ mental health but also noted that “rules are in place to ensure all players are treated exactly the same, no matter their stature, beliefs or achievement.”

The statement said Osaka had been approached and asked to reconsider her position but there was a “lack of engagement.”

Osaka, the group of Slam leaders said, has been “advised” that “should she continue to ignore her media obligations during the tournament, she would be exposing herself to possible further Code of Conduct infringement consequences.”

Citing the rule book, the statement noted that “tougher sanctions” from “repeat violations” could include being defaulted from the tournament and “the trigger of a major offense investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions.”

Her sister, Mari, wrote in a post on Reddit, which she later deleted, that Naomi was “not OK mentally” after a first-round loss this month in Rome.

“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,” Mari wrote. “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. … So her solution was to block everything out.”

After her win, Osaka did go ahead with the perfunctory exchange of pleasantries with an on-court French Open “interviewer” who lobs softball questions so spectators can hear something from the athletes.

The topic of Osaka’s troubles on clay courts arose in that chat with former player Fabrice Santoro.

“I would say it’s a work in progress,” said Osaka, who has never been past the French Open’s third round. “Hopefully the more I play, the better it will get.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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