naomi osaka
Credit: KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images. Japan’s Naomi Osaka celebrates after winning against Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka during their women’s singles second round match on day five of The Roland Garros 2019 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on May 30, 2019. (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

On Monday, Naomi Osaka, the reigning U.S. Open and Australian Open singles champion, announced she was withdrawing from the French Open.

Ahead of the tennis tournament’s start, Osaka announced she wouldn’t be doing press during the championship in an effort to preserve her mental health, noting she would pay the fine implemented by the tournament that would accompany her decision. 

On Sunday, Osaka picked up her first win and a $15,000 fine for not participating in media requirements. She then took to social media to reveal her decision to step back entirely from the tournament.

“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,” the 23-year-old wrote on Instagram. “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.”

Osaka went on to reveal she has suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018, and that post-match interviews made her “get huge waves of anxiety” beforehand.

“Anyone who knows me knows I’m introverted, and anyone who’s seen me at tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety,” she wrote.

“I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can. 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,” Osaka explained. “I’m gonna take some time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans.”

In the wake of her announcement, tennis stars spoke out in support of Osaka, including her idol, Serena Williams. 

During a post-match news conference on Monday, Williams said, “I feel for Naomi. Not everyone is the same. I’m thick. Other people are thin. Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently. You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to and the best way she thinks she can. That’s the only thing I can say: I think she is doing the best she can,” she finished, according to the Associated Press.

Williams added that many of the press conferences she’s had to take part in over the years have been “very difficult,” but they have “made me stronger.” 

Martina Navratilova, an 18-time Grand Slam singles champion, tweeted about Osaka’s decision to step back from the game, writing, “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!” 

Billie Jean King, a 39 Grand Slam winner in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, also tweeted, writing, “It’s incredibly brave 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.”

Politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez replied to Osaka on Twitter, writing, “Proud of you.”

Meanwhile, Jameela Jamil called to “boycott the French open,” writing, “Naomi is the most exciting player anyway. Imagine punishing someone for having anxiety… in 2021.” 

Naomi Campbell commented on Osaka’s Instagram post, writing, “take care of you and be kind and easy on yourself, your health comes first ..gracious and brave for you to share with the world .your in my thoughts and prayers .❤️❤️❤️.”

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