AP Photo/Christophe Ena
Naomi Osaka withdrew from the 2021 French Open on Monday, a day after she was fined $15,000 for failing to meet her media requirements.
Osaka released a statement on her Twitter feed, saying she “never wanted to be a distraction” from the other players participating in the event.
“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. 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 importantly 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.”
After Osaka’s announcement, Roland Garros issued a statement in response to her exit from the tournament:
“First and foremost, we are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka. The outcome of Naomi withdrawing from Roland-Garros is unfortunate. We wish her the best and the quickest possible recovery, and we look forward to having Naomi at our Tournament next year.
“As all the Grand Slams, the WTA, the ATP and the ITF, we remain very committed to all athletes’ well-being and to continually improving every aspect of players’ experience in our Tournament, including with the Media, like we have always strived to do.”
Osaka announced last week that she would not participate in press conferences at Roland Garros, citing her mental health. She said she feels “people have no regard for athletes’ mental health” and criticized Grand Slam tennis for forcing media requirements on players.
“If the organizations think they can keep saying, ‘do press or you’re going to get fined,’ and continue to ignore the mental health of the athletes that are the centerpiece of their cooperation then I just gotta laugh,” Osaka wrote.
Roland Garros fired back by levying a $15,000 fine to Osaka after she failed to participate in her post-match press conference after her first-round defeat of Patricia Maria Tig. The tournament said Osaka was unresponsive when it attempted to reach out and address her concerns and threatened her with further sanctions like disqualification from the French Open and/or a suspension from future Grand Slams.
Osaka acknowledged she could have better handled her part in announcing the decision but pushed back on any narrative that she’s trivializing mental health to avoid press conferences. She said she has experienced “long bouts of depression” since the 2018 U.S. Open, deals with “huge waves of anxiety” before meeting with media and called the tour’s requirements “outdated.”
Billie Jean King, Victoria Azarenka, Coco Gauff were among those to speak out in support of Osaka after her announcement.
“Stay strong I admire your vulnerability,” Gauff wrote.
On any level, this appears to be a major mishandling of the situation by Roland Garros. Osaka is a 23-year-old who stands as the most famous young star in the sport. Taking a hardline stance on Osaka made it look as if it does not take mental health seriously while alienating a star into withdrawing from the French Open.
Rather than allowing Osaka to take care of her mental health and continue to play in the event—it’s worth noting that Osaka did do an on-court interview after her first-round match—Roland Garros has now turned its poor handling of arguably the game’s brightest young star into the biggest story of the event.