The highest-paid female athlete in the world, tennis superstar Naomi Osaka, decided to leave the French Open at the end of May citing her battle with depression and anxiety. Her withdrawal from the tournament created a media frenzy, and divided journalists and fans. But it has also started a conversation about athletes and mental health that for many is long overdue.
Japan’s tennis player Naomi Osaka thanked her fans for their support after the four-time Grand Slam champion withdrew from the French Open earlier.
The world number two initially said she would not attend the tournament’s mandatory post-match press conferences, which she said put undue pressure on players.
French tennis officials fined Osaka $15,000 and threatened to expel her from the tournament for not honouring mandatory media commitments.
After her first-round win, the 23-year-old announced she was withdrawing from the tournament and revealed she had been suffering bouts of depression for several years, leading to an outpouring of support.
“Just want to thank you for all the love,” she wrote in an Instagram story. “Haven’t been on my phone much but I wanted to hop on here and tell you all that I really appreciate it.”
Osaka said earlier that post-match news conferences are detrimental to her mental health and likened the traditional question and answer format to “kicking people when they’re down”.
She also did not say when she plans to play next, putting her participation at Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics in doubt.
French Open officials said they tried unsuccessfully to speak with Osaka before she pulled out.
Osaka has withdrawn from a grass-court tournament in Berlin that starts on June 14.
She said her mental health struggles began in 2018 after she won the first of her four majors at the US Open in a controversial final against Serena Williams.
The International Tennis Federation has promised a comprehensive review on how players and media interact during tournaments, saying it takes mental health issues extremely seriously.
In the past, Osaka has used her position to call attention to issues of police violence and racial inequality.