Top tennis players and other star athletes from the sports world have rallied behind Naomi Osaka after the women’s world number two withdrew from the French Open 2021 in a row about post-match media duties, saying she had been suffering from “depression” and “anxiety”.
The four-times Grand Slam champion had signalled her intentions to skip her media duties to protect her mental well-being on social media and returned to Twitter on Monday to announce her withdrawal.
“I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can go back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris,” she wrote.
— NaomiOsaka (@naomiosaka) May 31, 2021
While her original stance had earned little backing from her fellow professionals, most of whom saying that dealing with the media was part of the job, her withdrawal triggered a wave of support from around the sporting world.
Serena Williams, 17-year-old Coco Gauff and Sloane Stephens chimed in with messages of support as the focus shifted from Osaka’s responsibilities to her wellbeing.
“I feel for Naomi,” Serena Williams said. “Not everyone is the same. I’m thick. Other people are thin. 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 she thinks she can. That’s the only thing I can say: I think she is doing the best she can.”
stay strong I admire your vulnerability
— Coco Gauff (@CocoGauff) May 31, 2021
Billie Jean King echoed comments from fellow tennis great and 18-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova about the importance of mental health.
It’s incredibly brave that Naomi Osaka has revealed her truth about her struggle with depression.
Right now, the important thing is that we give her the space and time she needs.
We wish her well.
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) May 31, 2021
“It’s incredibly brave that Naomi Osaka has revealed her truth about her struggle with depression,” King wrote on social media.
“Right now, the important thing is that we give her the space and time she needs. We wish her well.”
There were also messages of support posted on social media from athletes in other sports, with golf’s Michelle Wie, NFL players Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett also offering their backing.
“You shouldn’t ever have to make a decision like this — but so damn impressive taking the high road when the powers that be don’t protect their own. Major respect,” wrote NBA All Star Steph Curry.
There was some criticism of Roland Garros organisers for their handling of the matter.
French Tennis Federation President Gilles Moretton read a prepared statement on Monday offering Osaka their support but ironically did not take any question.
“We are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka. The outcome of Naomi withdrawing from Roland Garros is unfortunate,” he said.
“So the FFT handled the Ms Osaka mental health concerns without empathy or sensitivity. Then the FFT President refuses to take questions at a presser. An own goal,” wrote former Australian tennis official Richard Ings.
Japan’s Osaka, who according to sports business website Sportico earned $55.2 million over the past 12 months, is expected to be one of the biggest attractions at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics in July and August.
The 23-year-old concluded her statement by saying she would be taking some time away from tennis.