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Naomi Osaka: “I should have prepared for fall-outs and criticism”

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Naomi Osaka interview

Naomi Osaka says former first lady Michelle Obama and sports stars Novak Djokovic, Michael Phelps and Steph Curry were among those who reached out to offer support after she withdrew from the French Open for mental health reasons.

 

 

Naomi Osaka admits she should have been prepared for the fall-out to her decision to duck press conferences at the French Open, but has asked for more “privacy and empathy” when she returns to action.

Naomi Osaka fined

In May, Osaka announced she would not participate in post-match news conferences at Roland Garros in order to protect her mental health.

She said she had suffered bouts of depression since winning her first Grand Slam title at the US Open in 2018 and that talking to the media triggered anxiety.

But the four Grand Slams reacted strongly to Osaka’s move, releasing a joint statement that threatened her with potential disqualification and a ban from future tournaments should she not reconsider.

Michelle Obama and Naomi Osaka

“I ask the press for some level of privacy and empathy next time we meet I do hope that people can relate and understand it’s OK to not be OK; and it’s OK to talk about it.”

The 23-year-old promptly withdrew from the French Open after her first-round win and later pulled out of Wimbledon, but she is due to play at this summer’s Olympics in the country of her birth, Japan.

In an essay for a special issue of Time magazine ahead of the Olympics, world No 2 Osaka wrote: “The world is as divided now as I can remember in my short 23 years.

Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams receive an emotional message from Michelle Obama

Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams receive an emotional message from Michelle Obama

“Issues that are so obvious to me at face value, like wearing a mask in a pandemic or kneeling to show support for anti-racism, are ferociously contested. I mean, wow!

“So, when I said I needed to miss French Open press conferences to take care of myself mentally, I should have been prepared for what unfolded.

“I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms – frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me. I also do not want to have to engage in a scrutiny of my personal medical history ever again.

Naomi and Micheal

“So I ask the press for some level of privacy and empathy next time we meet. I do hope that people can relate and understand it’s OK to not be OK, and it’s OK to talk about it.”

Osaka’s French Open exit led to an outpouring of support from fellow tennis professionals and other athletes from Venus and Serena Williams to Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton and former Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt.

She was particularly inspired by encouragement from American swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian.

Micheal and Naomi

“Michael Phelps told me that by speaking up I may have saved a life. If that’s true, then it was all worth it,” she said.

After skipping Wimbledon, Osaka is now focused on a successful return at the Tokyo Olympics on home soil.