Naomi Osaka announces withdrawal from French Open after media blackout controversy

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Naomi Osaka says she is withdrawing from the French Open, just five days after she made waves by announcing she would not speak to press during the tournament.

The world No. 2 announced her withdrawal on Monday, saying she wanted the focus to return to tennis and no longer wanted to be a distraction.

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Osaka conceded that the timing of her previous announcement was "not ideal" and her message could have been clearer, but noted that she has suffered long bouts of depression since her victory at the 2018 US Open.

The statement ended with Osaka saying she is going to "take some time away from the court" in the wake of the controversy that has raged over the last five days, but still wishes to discuss the situation with tournament organizers.

French Open fined Osaka, threatened default from tournament 

Osaka announced her media blackout last Wednesday, four days before her first-round match at Roland Garros. 

It didn't take long for the decision to become the story of the tournament, with talking heads and other tennis players weighing in. Not helping the situation was a Reddit post from Osaka's sister Mari, which painted the media blackout as a reflection of her sister's lack of confidence on clay (Osaka has never advanced past the third round of the French Open). Mari eventually deleted the post, but not before apologizing and saying she "probably made the situation worse."

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 30: Naomi Osaka of Japan looks frustrated during her match against Patricia Maria Țig of Romania in the first round of the women’s singles at Roland Garros on May 30, 2021 in Paris, France.
Naomi Osaka will exit the French Open. (Getty Images)

The four-time Grand Slam champion eventually followed through on her promise after her win over Patricia Maria Tig on Sunday. The French Open responded by fining her $15,000, but the real pushback came in a joint statement with the other Grand Slam organizers:

We have advised Naomi Osaka that should she continue to ignore her media obligations during the tournament, she would be exposing herself to possible further Code of Conduct infringement consequences. As might be expected, repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament (Code of Conduct article III T.) and the trigger of a major offence investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions (Code of Conduct article IV A.3.).

Facing a potential default from the tournament and suspensions from other Grand Slam tournaments, Osaka instead opted to walk away.

French Open president responds to Osaka's withdrawal

Hours after Osaka announced her withdrawal, French Tennis Federation president Gilles Moretton responded with a brief statement lamenting the situation and welcoming Osaka to next year's tournament:

"First and foremost, we are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka. 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 at 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 every aspect of players’ experience in our Tournament, including with the Media, like we have always strived to do."

Moretton did not appear to offer any indication his tournament is willing to make a change in the future for Osaka, simply claiming the Grand Slams are "very committed to all athletes' well-being."

Osaka has been open about mental health struggles

While Osaka said her issues with depression date back to the 2018 US Open, she had actually spoken about it with reporters shortly after making her first major breakthrough with her 2018 win at Indian Wells:

“Yesterday I just woke up and I was really depressed, but I don’t know why ... I was able to win two matches, but I feel like that really doesn't say I can play well on clay. It's more, I think, I'm just an OK player that was able to play OK. Like, I’m so sad right now.”

Months later, after winning first Grand Slam at the 2018 US Open, Osaka discussed how athletes can struggle with depression with Teen Vogue about the problems athletes can face:

"You can easily get depressed. Usually, if you play sports, you think that one match or one game is very important, and when you lose it, you think your whole world is over. I can see how easily that can turn."

Athletes have become increasingly open about their mental health struggles in recent years, including Michael Phelps and Kevin Love. Osaka has been a part of that, once going as far as ascribing a split from a coach as prioritizing her happiness over her success (she has won two Grand Slam titles since). Once again, it appears she is prioritizing her well-being.

How long will Naomi Osaka stay away from tennis?

Osaka's statement addressed her status for the French Open, but it also leaves her status for future events unclear.

Wimbledon, the other Grand Slam that Osaka has never won, is scheduled to begin in just four weeks, though preparations will likely need to begin much earlier if Osaka wants to competitive in the tournament. If Osaka doesn't want to play before then and can't work out a media arrangement to her liking, it could mean another Grand Slam missed.

Naomi Osaka's full statement:

"Hey everyone, this isn't a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago. 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. I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer. 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 US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that. Anyone that knows me knows I'm introverted, and anyone that has seen me at the tournaments will notice that I'm often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety. Though the tennis press has always been kind to me (and I wanna apologize especially to all the cool journalists who I may have hurt), I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world's media. I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can.

"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. 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. 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. Anyways hope you are all doing well and staying safe, love you guys I'll see you when I see you."

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