World No. 2 tennis champion Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the French Open, a day after she was fined $15,000 by the grand slam for opting to skip the mandatory post-match press conference.
Osaka had announced on social media on Wednesday May 26 before the tournament began that she would not be speaking to press during Roland Garros (the French Open) due to the effects of reporters’ questions on players’ mental health.
After winning her opening match against Romania’s Patricia Maria Tig on Sunday, Osaka was fined for not participating in the press conference, and French Open officials warned that she could face harsher penalties such as being expelled from the tournament and future Grand Slam suspensions.
On Monday, Osaka announced that she was withdrawing from the tournament.
“This isn’t a situation that I ever imagined or intended when I posted days ago,” the 23-year-old wrote. “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 truth is I’ve suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time dealing with that,” she wrote.
Osaka beat Serena Williams at the US Open in 2018 but was booed by the crowd, who had been supporting Williams, during the trophy ceremony, which led to both Osaka and Williams crying.
Osaka added that she was an introverted person who experienced “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking to the press. “I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can,” she said.
She said that she was already feeling vulnerable in Paris and decided to exercise self-care and skip the press conference.
Osaka said she was going to be taking some time away from the court but that she had apologized privately to the tournament and would be happy to have a discussion with them after the tournament to “discuss ways we can make things better for players, press and fans.”
This is the first time in professional tennis that someone as significant as Osaka has quit from an event as big as the French Open, according to the New York Times.
The president of the French Federation of Tennis said her withdrawal was “unfortunate” and that organizers wished her the “quickest possible recovery.”
“We are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka,” he said in a statement. “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.”
Press conferences are mandatory under the grand slam rules, and players can be fined up to $20,000 for missing them. However, players will occasionally skip a press conference and be fined after a particularly bad loss, although fines rarely reach the maximum.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic skipped the press conference after he was disqualified after accidentally striking a ball at the neck of a lineswoman during the fourth round of last year’s US Open, according to the Guardian. He was fined $7,500.
Seven-time grand slam champion Venus Williams also skipped numerous press conferences between 2015 and 2016 and was fined between $3,000 and $5,000.
“We are often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me,” Osaka wrote in her initial announcement. “I’ve watched many clips of athletes breaking down after a loss in the press room and I know you have as well. I believe the whole situation is kicking a person while they’re down and I don’t understand the reasoning behind it.”