When Naomi Osaka posted just last week that she would not be doing any press for the duration of the French Open, most were quick to voice their support. The World No 2 cited that press conferences bring her huge anxiety, as the experience for most athletes is one of feeling like being kicked while they’re down by the questions asked by journalists, many of which are insensitive. It was a first in the sporting world, a declaration from Osaka that her mental health wasn’t just something she struggled with, but also a priority for her. In putting herself first, Osaka sent a very clear and inspiring message to all her fans around the world, suggesting that it’s not weak, nor selfish, to show up for yourself and your health.
Despite the support Osaka received from fans and colleagues in the tennis world, prednisone tremors her sentiments were not echoed by the tournament organisers and after her recent match win, Osaka was fined $15,000 and warned she could even face expulsion from the tournament following her decision not to speak with the press during the tournament.
Amid the uproar, Osaka has now decided to withdraw from the event, saying she was leaving the tournament to focus on her return to tennis after days of widespread attention. In a post shared on her social media, Osaka wrote, “This isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago.”
She added, “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. I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer. More importantly I would never trivialise mental health or use the term lightly.”
In her statement, the four-time grand slam champion detailed that she had suffered from “long bouts of depression” since the 2018 US Open final. “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,” wrote Osaka.
She went on to say that she suffers from “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking to 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. I announced it preemptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that.”
Osaka has received support from the tennis community since leaving the competition. And many have been quick to criticise the heavy-handed approach of organisers, believing it to be disproportionate to Osaka’s initial request. As Martina Navratilova said in a Tweet, “As athletes we are taught to take care of our body, and perhaps the mental and emotional aspect gets short shrift. This is about more than doing or not doing a press conference.”
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