As of May 31, tennis superstar Naomi Osaka has cited that she “never wanted to be a distraction” and is officially withdrawing from the 2021 French Open to focus on her mental health. The 23-year-old, No. 2 ranked player in the world had previously made it clear she was not going to do any press during the tournament, so she was summarily fined $15K for refusing to attend a post-match press conference after her opening-round win against Patricia Maria Tig. Therefore, Osaka will now forgo this year’s Roland-Garros altogether.
The day before her official statement, Osaka hinted at the French Tennis Federation’s anger with her and tweeted, “anger is a lack of understanding. change makes people uncomfortable.” Her self-imposed exit has left her fans divided, though. Some consider the conferences unnecessary and that the federation should neither fine nor discipline her; other fans consider her manner of announcement as unprofessional as her defiance to perform a de facto part of her job.
Osaka shared how her introversion, struggles with depression, and social anxiety made her time in Paris hard on her. “I wrote privately to the tournament apologizing and saying that I would be more than happy to speak with them after the tournament as the Slams are intense,” she posted on social media. “I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press, and fans. Anyways hope you are all doing well and staying safe, love you guys I’ll see you when I see you ❤️.”
In a now-deleted tweet, per Reuters, the French Open appeared to be mocking Osaka’s claims of difficulty with her mental health. In the post, the Open posted photos of Rafael Nadal, Kei Nishikori, Aryna Sabalenka and Coco Gauff engaging with media and with the caption: “They understood the assignment.”
French Tennis Federation president Gilles Moretton held a presser two days later, after Osaka said she was bowing out of the tournament. “We are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka,” he read from a prepared statement. “The outcome of Naomi withdrawing from Roland Garros is unfortunate. 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,” he continued, “the WTA, the ATP, and the ITF, we remain very committed to all athletes’ wellbeing and to continually improving every aspect of players’ experience in our tournament, including with the media, like we have always striven to do.”
Ironically, however, Moretton then answered no questions and left the stage — the very same action for which Osaka was chided by the federation. And journalists were quick to point out the hypocrisy of the moment.
Osaka has received a ton of support from all corners. Fellow Black tennis star Coco Gauff, AOC, and legend Martina Navratilova have been vocal about Osaka deserving “nothing but connection and love and support, that’s all.”
Serena Williams, herself a 3x French Open champ and also participating in this year’s tourney, said the following words of her peer: “The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi. I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it’s like… Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently. You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to. I’ve been there where I’ve been very difficult to walk in (to press conferences) in those moments. But, you know, it made me stronger.”
Here’s how the sports world is supporting Naomi and her brave decision: