Naomi Osaka, the Japanese women’s tennis star, withdrew from the French Open on Monday, sparking a controversy over her refusal to attend news conferences owing to her purported mental health problems.
The second-seeded Osaka, who was scheduled to face Ana Bogdan following Sunday’s first-round victory over Patricia Maria Tig, said in a statement posted to her Twitter account that it was “the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being” to withdraw.
Speaking of her decision last week to skip mandatory skip press conferences during Roland Garros because of what she called the media’s disregard of athletes’ “mental health,” the Osaka wrote she recognized her move has taken the focus off the tennis being played 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 stated. “More importantly I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly.”
In her original statement issued Wednesday, the 23-year-old star said she would not be conducting any press interviews during the tournament.
“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,” she wrote.
Osaka said she expected to be fined for her actions, and after skipping the press conference following Sunday’s win over Tig, the four Grand Slam tournaments indeed announced she would face a $15,000 penalty.
On Monday, Osaka indicated that her aversion to press interviews derives from extreme social anxiety and is not intended personally.
The four-time Grand Slam champion stated that she has been suffering from “long bouts of depression” since the 2018 US Open final, when she upset Serena Williams in a contentious match in which her opponent earned a game penalty.
“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,” Osaka wrote.
She apologized to some journalists and wrote of experiencing “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking with the media.
“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,” she stated. “I announced it preemptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that.
“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.”