Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the French Open, announcing Monday on social media that she will "take some time away from the court" one day after she was fined and threatened with harsher sanctions for skipping her mandatory media obligations.
Osaka, in a lengthy statement, said she "never wanted to be a distraction" and that her withdrawal is "the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being."
"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 wrote. "I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and message could have been clearer."
Gilles Moretton, the president of the French Tennis Federation, read a brief statement to the media on Monday following Osaka's withdrawal but did not take any follow-up questions.
"First and foremost, we are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka," Moretton said. "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 in 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 all aspects of players' experience in our tournaments including with the media like we have always tried to do."
Osaka, 23, also revealed that she has experienced depression and anxiety since winning her first major at the 2018 US Open and explained that speaking to the media often makes her nervous. She apologized to any media members she had impacted with her decision.
"I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world's media," she said. "I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try and engage and give [the media] the best answers I can."
Martina Navratilova, an 18-time Grand Slam champion, tweeted that she is "so sad about Naomi Osaka," adding that "perhaps the mental & emotional aspect gets short shrift."
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. Good luck Naomi- we are all pulling for you!— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) May 31, 2021
Navratilova also tweeted that although Osaka "tried to make a situation better for herself and others, she inadvertently made it worse."
And kudos to Naomi Osaka for caring so much about the other players. While she tried to make a situation better for herself and others, she inadvertently made it worse. Hope this solution, pulling out, as brutal as it is will allow her to start healing and take care of her SELF.— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) May 31, 2021
Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry tweeted that it was "impressive" and offered "major respect" to Osaka for "taking the high road when the powers that be dont protect their own."
And Serena Williams offered support as well during her media availability.
"I feel for Naomi. I feel like I wish I could give her a hug, because I know what it's like," Williams said. "Everyone is different, and everyone handles things differently. You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to and the best way that she thinks she can, and that's the only thing I can say, I think she's doing the best that she can."
Osaka, a four-time major champion and the No. 2 seed in this clay-court Grand Slam, announced Wednesday that she would not be participating in any news conferences during the tournament, citing her mental health as the motivation for the decision.
The WTA issued a statement in an email to The Associated Press.
"Mental health and awareness around it is one of the highest priorities to the WTA," the tour said. "We have invested significant resources, staffing and educational tools in this area for the past 20-plus years and continue to develop our mental health support system for the betterment of the athletes and the organization. We remain here to support and assist Naomi in any way possible and we hope to see her back on the court soon."
The WTA also said a mental health care professional is available in person at all tournaments, including Grand Slams, and that mental health and wellness telehealth sessions are available between events.
"WTA Mental Health &Wellness professionals provide resources and support across four primary areas of need as identified by historical and current research on elite athletes and WTA athletes, specifically," the WTA said as part of a statement Tuesday to ESPN. "These include 1) Mental Health Consultation, Support and Referrals; 2) Mental Performance Skills; 3) Tour Life Skills Development and Strategies; and 4) Critical Incident Management/Safeguarding Support."
Osaka's announcement sparked much debate in the tennis and sports world, and other players, notably 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal and No. 1-ranked Ash Barty, have said they respect Osaka's right to take a stance but explained that they consider speaking to reporters part of the job. Osaka was fined $15,000 for skipping her postmatch news conference Sunday after her victory against Patricia Maria Tig.
In addition to Sunday's fine, Osaka drew a surprising warning from all four Grand Slam tournaments that she could face stiffer penalties, including disqualification or even suspension, if she continues to avoid the media.
Osaka, who was next scheduled to take on Ana Bogdan in the second round Wednesday, said she hoped she could have a conversation with officials from the WTA upon her return.
"I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans," she said.
Osaka has never been past the third round on the French Open's red clay. It takes seven victories to win a Grand Slam title, which she has done four times at hard-court tournaments: the US Open in 2018 and 2020, and the Australian Open in 2019 and this February.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.