Haitian-Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka has received an outpouring of support from athletes across the world following her decision to withdraw from the French Open, citing mental health concerns.
The four-time Grand slam champion stunned the tennis world on May 31 when she pulled out of the French Open tournament after being fined $15,000 for skipping an obligatory post-match interview the day before. Osaka said she believed that the post-match interviews adversely affected the mental health of many athletes. After being fined and threatened with expulsion, Osaka announced her withdrawal on Twitter.
“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.
“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.”
In the wake of her announcement, scores of past and present tennis champions showed her their support.
“So proud of you,” multiple Grand Slam winner Venus Williams posted on Twitter. “Take care of yourself and see you back winning soon!”
Another tennis champion, Venus’s sister, Serena Williams also voiced her support for Osaka during a post-match interview.
“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,” Williams said. “I feel like I wish I could give her a hug, because I know what it’s like. Like I said, I’ve been in those positions,” she told the Associated Press.
Billie Jean King, a former Number 1 tennis player, also echoed comments from the Williams sisters.
“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, including NFL player Russell Wilson and Jamaican Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt who sent her positive comments on social media.
“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.
Scores of Osaka’s sponsors including Nike, Nissin Foods, TAG Heuer, and Mastercard have also shown their support for the 23-year-old tennis champion, who said she will be taking some time away from the court.
It is not yet known if she will participate in the 2021 Wimbledon Championships, which start on June 28.