Roland Garros

Grand Slam tournament bosses vow to support Osaka during time out from tour

Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open after the heads of the four Grand Slam tournaments in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York threatened to ban her for not speaking to the media after her matches.
Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open after the heads of the four Grand Slam tournaments in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York threatened to ban her for not speaking to the media after her matches. © Pierre Rene-Worms/RFI

Bosses of the four most prestigious tournaments on the tennis circuit on Tuesday joined together to offer world number two Naomi Osaka their backing as she battles with depression.

Advertising

The 23-year-old withdrew from the French Open on Monday after she was fined and threatened with bans from their competitions for missing her post-match media interview on Sunday following her first round victory over Patricia Maria Tig.

In the prelude to the tournament, Osaka announced on social media she would forego the press conference in Paris because she found the sessions with reporters at competitions around the world had often provoked doubts about herself when she was trying to remain positive.

The directors of the French Open, the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open released a statement following the 13,000 euro fine urging Osaka to reconsider her stance and warned her of more severe punishments if she refused.

The four-time Grand Slam champion opted to leave the second Grand Slam tournament of the season and walk away from the circuit.

Support

“On behalf of the Grand Slams, we wish to offer our support and assistance in any way possible as she takes time away from the court,” said a statement on Tuesday.

“She is an exceptional athlete and we look forward to her return as soon as she deems appropriate.

“Mental health is a very challenging issue, which deserves our utmost attention,” the statement added. 

“It is both complex and personal, as what affects one individual does not necessarily affect another. We commend Naomi for sharing in her own words the pressures and anxieties she is feeling and we empathise with the unique pressures tennis players may face.”

In her tweet on Monday explaining her reasons for walking away, Osaka said: “Anyone that knows me knows I’m introverted, and anyone that has seen me at the tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety. ... I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media.”

Equality

The Grand Slam tournament chiefs said on Sunday they had adopted their position to ensure everyone was treated equally on the tour.

Tuesday’s statement added: “Together as a community we will continue to improve the player experience at our tournaments, including as it relates to media. 

“Change should come through the lens of maintaining a fair playing field, regardless of ranking or status. Sport requires rules and regulations to ensure that no player has an unfair advantage over another.”

Osaka said she had been suffering from bouts of depression since winning her first Grand Slam title at the US Open in 2018. She claimed the Australian Open in 2019. Her other two crowns have come at the same events.

Her withdrawal has cast a shadow over the 2021 French Open. She was not among the favourites having only reached the third round in three of her previous four visits.

The intrigue among the cognoscenti was whether she was making palpable progress on the surface.

Following her first round defeat to the 32nd seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, 40-year-old Venus Williams was asked about dealing with the media throughout a career lasting more than two decades which has yielded seven Grand Slam singles titles and 16 in the doubles and mixed doubles.

“I know every single person asking me a question can't play as well as I can and never will," said Williams. "So no matter what they say or what they write, they’'ll never light a candle to me. So that's how I deal with it.”

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning