Tennis star Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the French Open amid controversy over her decision not to attend news conferences after her matches. The surprising turn of events, which Osaka announced on social media, came a day after the four-time Grand Slam champion was fined $15,000 after she skipped the news conference following her opening match victory on Sunday. In addition to the fine, all four Grand Slam tournaments—Australian, French and United States Opens as well as Wimbledon—threatened her with harsher penalties, including possible disqualifications or suspensions. “I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can go back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris,” Osaka said.
In her post, Osaka, who is the world’s highest-paid female athlete, said she had been struggling with “long bouts of depression.” Osaka is known for being a private person who rarely grants interviews and had never openly talked about her struggles with depression before. Last week, Osaka made waves when she publicly said she wouldn’t “do any press during Roland Garros.” She said her decision was rooted in mental health and the difficulties of answering probing questions after a loss. She said at the time she expected to be fined. But her Monday statement was much more personal.
“I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer,” Osaka wrote. “More important I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly. The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that.” Osaka said that those who know her know she’s “introverted” and pointed to how she’s “often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety.” She also said talking to the media makes her nervous. “I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media,” she said. “I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try and engage.” Osaka said she plans to “take some time away from the court.”
Osaka’s decision to skip the news conferences led to controversy in the tennis world. Several other big-name players said they respected Osaka’s right to take a position on the issue but insisted they see talking to the press as part of their job. In the statement threatening further sanctions, the leaders of the four Grand Slam tournaments said it was a basic issue of fairness. “We want to underline that rules are in place to ensure all players are treated exactly the same, no matter their stature, beliefs or achievement,” the officials wrote.