Tennis Stars and Sponsors Stand By Naomi Osaka After She Withdraws From 2021 French Open
“I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it's like,” Serena Williams said Monday about Naomi Osaka.
Athletes and sponsors are supporting tennis star Naomi Osaka after she announced Monday that she is withdrawing from the 2021 French Open to focus on her “well-being.”
“The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi,” fellow tennis legend Serena Williams said during a post-match news conference, hours after Osaka announced her decision. “I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it's like. I've been in those positions."
Nike, which sponsors Osaka, also expressed its support for the 23-year-old.
“Our thoughts are with Naomi,” the sports apparel giant said in a statement. “We support her and recognize her courage in sharing her own mental health experience.”
Mastercard, another Osaka sponsor, said it admires the athlete’s “courage to address important issues, both on and off the court.”
“Naomi Osaka's decision reminds us all how important it is to prioritize personal health and well-being,” Mastercard said in a statement.
Last week, Osaka said she would not do post-match news conferences at the 2021 French Open, which is also referred to as Roland-Garros.
“I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes [sic] mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one,” Osaka wrote in a statement on Twitter.
On Sunday, Osaka skipped the press conference following her first-round win against Romania’s Patricia Maria Țig. Soon after, Roland-Garros fined the four-time Grand Slam winner $15,000.
“A core element of the Grand Slam regulations is the responsibility of the players to engage with the media, whatever the result of their match, a responsibility which players take for the benefit of the sport, the fans and for themselves,” organizers of the Grand Slam tournaments wrote in a statement Sunday. “These interactions allow both the players and the media to share their perspective and for the players to tell their story.”
The organizers of the Grand Slam tournaments had warned that if Osaka continued to skip press conferences, she could face harsher penalties, including “default from the tournament.”
A day later, Osaka announced she would be withdrawing from the tournament.
“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,” Osaka said.
She said she “never wanted to be a distraction” and opened up about her experience with mental health as her success in sports catapulted her to greater fame.
“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.
She continued: “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.”
In a comment on Osaka’s Instagram post announcing her withdrawal, Venus Williams said she is proud of her.
“Take care of yourself and see you back winning soon,” Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion, said.
NBA player Kyrie Irving also commented on the post: “We are all with you Queen. Just Be You, that will always be enough.”
Tennis legend Billie Jean King tweeted that Osaka is “incredibly brave” for opening about her depression.
“Right now, the important thing is that we give her the space and time she needs,” King said Sunday.
Osaka’s announcement has also prompted a bigger conversation about the mental health of Black women and women of color as well as the related burnout.
In the post announcing her withdrawal, Osaka said she is open to speaking with tournament organizers to improve the experience for players, press, and fans.
“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,” Osaka said.