Naomi Osaka sent shockwaves when she announced her decision to withdraw from the ongoing French Open 2021 on Monday following a lot of controversy surrounding her decision to not speak to the press during the tournament in Paris. On Monday, Osaka announced that it was “the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being” that she stepped away and take some time off from the sport. She revealed about her bouts of depression ever since winning the US Open 2018 and that ahead of this year’s Roland Garros, she was “already feeling vulnerable and anxious”, hence she thought it best to protect her mental health by avoiding the media.
Osaka had announced her decision to skip press conferences a week in advance but she got increasingly isolated in her decision with the other players speaking the importance of media in their success. After not attending the press conference following her first round win, Osaka was fined and all the four Grand Slams released a joint statement threatening Osaka of expulsion from Roland Garros and possibly, the other Grand Slam tournaments.
On Monday, French Open even mocked Osaka by putting out a tweet with players doing their press conferences, captioning it “The understood their assignment.”
After Osaka announced her decision, the French tennis federation president Gilles Moretton called up the press to give a statement on Osaka’s withdrawal and ironically, refused to take any questions.
Following all the drama, Osaka received support from her fellow athletes, current and past, with the NBA star Stephen Curry condemning the powers that be in the world of tennis. “You shouldnt ever have to make a decison like this-but so damn impressive taking the high road when the powers that be dont protect their own. major respect @naomiosaka.”
West Indies cricket international Carlos Brathwaite saluted Osaka, calling her strong to be giving up the game she loves to focus on self-care. “Everyone talks about mental health after someone commits suicide but ridicules everyone who tries to protect their mental health. You are strong for standing up and speaking out and even giving up the game you love to protect your mental health. I salute you young queen,” he tweeted.
Head coach of NBA team the New Orleans Pelicans Stan Van Gundy asked a pertinent question as he said, “Just a question for the tennis authorities – is it better for your sport to have Naomi Osaka playing and not speaking to the media or not playing at all?”
Two-time Grand Slam champion and currently participating in Paris, Victoria Azarenka took a veiled dig as she said, “The challenge today is to convince people of the value of truth, honesty, compassion and a concern for others.”
23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams was also compassionate towards Osaka and said, “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.”
Tennis’ teenage sensation Coco Gauff asked Osaka to stay strong and said that she admired her vulnerability.
Another American Grand Slam champion Sofia Kenin said she can’t really comment on Osaka’s decision but respects it nonetheless. “I respect her decision. I respect what she does. I can’t really comment on that. I feel like everyone’s dealing with their own stuff.”
18-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova took to Twitter to express her sadness over Osaka’s withdrawal and said this was about more than a press conference issue. “I am so sad about Naomi Osaka. 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. This is about more than doing or not doing a press conference. Good luck Naomi- we are all pulling for you!” she tweeted.
Former top-10 ATP player Mardy Fish came out in fierce support of Osaka in her decision to protect her mental health and he was “here” for her. “Mental Health is nothing to criticize. Nothing to joke about. Pls take your mental health seriously. Without my support system, I truly believe I would not be here today. Here for you @naomiosaka.”
Billie Jean King, who was critical of Osaka’s decision to skip the press conferences, said, “It’s incredibly brace that Naomi Osaka has revealed her truth about her struggle with depression. Right now, the important thing is that we give her the space and time she needs. We wish her well.”
Former world No.1 Lindsay Davenport said on Tennis Channel that she saw a lack of concern in tennis when she was an active player for the well-being of her contemporary Jennifer Capriati and hopes that Osaka would be treated better. In 1994, Capriati admitted that she had contemplated suicide due to tennis burnout and issues over her appearance and relationships and her mental health struggles led to a number of serious incidents off the court.