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Naomi Osaka Drops Out Of French Open After Dispute Over Media Appearances

Naomi Osaka pulled out of the French Open after refusing to attend press conferences. Osaka says she suffers from depression and experiences, "huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world's media."
Image credit: TPN


Naomi Osaka is walking away from the French Open after a standoff with the sport’s top officials over her refusal to attend news events with reporters.

“Hey everyone, this isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended,” Osaka wrote in an Instagram post. “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.”

The move came after an unexpected clash with tennis officials. Osaka is a four-time Grand Slam champion, arguably the greatest female tennis player of her generation and the highest paid in terms of endorsements. But after arriving in Paris she announced she wouldn’t be attending mandatory news conferences at the French Open, citing, “disregard for athletes’ mental health.”

The French Tennis Federation announced a fine of $15,000 and Osaka was facing further fines and possible expulsion from the tournament if she continued to refuse to attend media events.

“I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly,” Osaka wrote in her Instagram post Monday. “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 winning her first round match against Patricia Maria Tig, Osaka did participate in a brief on-court interview, but refused to do a post-match news conference.

Osaka said she experiences, “huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media.”

Tennis officials framed the standoff in terms of fairness to the other athletes.

“We want to underline that rules are in place to ensure all players are treated exactly the same, no matter their stature, beliefs or achievement,” top tennis officials from France, Australia, England, and the U.S. said in a joint statement on Sunday.

“As a sport there is nothing more important than ensuring no player has an unfair advantage over another, which unfortunately is the case in this situation if one player refuses to dedicate time to participate in media commitments while the others all honor their commitments.”

The officials also said in their statement that they reached out to Osaka but that she didn’t engage with them in a dialogue about what she was experiencing. “The mental health of players competing in our tournaments and on the Tours is of the utmost importance to the Grand Slams.”

Officials also argued that media events were good for the sport and the public and that the rules required participation.

“I do feel like the rules are quite outdated,” Osaka wrote on Instagram. “I’m gonna take some time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans.”

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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