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On Sunday, May 30th, tennis star Naomi Osaka was fined $15,000 after she skipped the mandatory press conference following her first win at the French Open. She said ahead of time that she would be shirking the press to protect her own mental health. Since receiving the fine and threats of disqualification if she did not comply with the tournament's press rules, Osaka decided to withdraw herself from the French Open.
"I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my wellbeing is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris," Osaka wrote in a May 31st tweet. "I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer."
She continued, "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 U.S. Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that." She explained that she often wears headphones during tournaments to ward off her social anxiety.
"Though the tennis press has always been kind to me...I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world's media," Osaka 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."
On May 30th, a statement from the four Grand Slams tournaments said that if Osaka continued to ignore her media obligations, "she would be exposing herself to possible further code of conduct infringement consequences." According to Deadline, French Tennis Federation president Gilles Moretton had previously called Osaka's attitude toward the press as "a phenomenal error" and "not acceptable."
Osaka ultimately agreed to an on-court TV interview after the $15,000 fine was issued. She then cryptically tweeted, "Anger is a lack of understanding. Change makes people uncomfortable."
Osaka concluded in her tweet, "I announced it preemptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that. 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's fellow tennis stars came to her defense throughout this trying time, including Serena Williams. When asked about Osaka in her own press conference yesterday, Williams said, "The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi. I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it's like. I've been in those positions," adding that she thinks Osaka is doing "the best she can."
Tennis star Martina Navratilova also tweeted her support for Osaka, writing, "I am so sad about Naomi Osaka.I truly hope she will be ok. As athletes we are taught to take care of our body, and perhaps the mental & emotional aspect gets short shrift. This is about more than doing or not doing a press conference."
Osaka noted in her own statement on the matter that she'll be stepping away from the court for now, she looks forward to "[working] with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans."