TOPLINE Champion tennis player Naomi Osaka announced Monday afternoon on Twitter that she will withdraw from the French Open after organizers fined her $15,000 over her decision to boycott press conferences during the event for mental health reasons.
The decision came one day after Roland Garros, the organizer of the French Open, announced that Osaka would be fined for not attending a mandatory press conference Sunday morning in Paris.
Osaka, currently ranked No. 2 in the world, beat out Romanian player Patricia Maria Țig in straight sets Sunday morning, but skipped out on the traditional post-match presser after saying last week that facing media questions can be harmful for athletes’ mental health.
“I never wanted to be a distraction,” the 23-year-old said on Twitter Monday, adding that she’s “suffered long bouts of depression since the U.S. Open in 2018” and gets “huge waves of anxiety before” speaking in press conferences.
“This isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago,” Osaka said Monday. “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 announced on Twitter last week that she would not do any press conferences during the open because she felt they perpetuated a disregard for athletes’ mental health, citing examples of athletes breaking down in a press room after a tough loss. “I believe that the whole situation is kicking a person while they’re down, and I don’t understand the reasoning behind it,” she said. After Osaka didn’t show to the Sunday press conference, organizers of the four Grand Slams—the world’s most prestigious tennis tournaments, including the French and U.S. Opens—said in a statement that “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.” They also warned that if Osaka further violated any media obligations, she could receive additional fines, as well as face suspension from the Paris tournament and even future Grand Slam tournament suspensions.
Osaka received an outpouring of support on social media following her tournament withdrawal, with many people—including celebrities, politicians and fellow athletes—wishing her well and applauding her decision to speak up about mental health. “As athletes we are taught to take care of our body, and perhaps the mental & emotional aspect gets short shrift,” Martina Navratilova, often considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time, tweeted shortly after Osaka’s announcement. “This is about more than doing or not doing a press conference.”
$37 million. That’s how much money Osaka made from May 2019 to May 2020, according to Forbes, making her the highest-paid female athlete of all time.
By Jonathan Ponciano, Forbes Staff