Japan joins tennis stars to support world’s No.2 Osaka after French Open withdrawal - GulfToday

Japan joins tennis stars to support world’s No.2 Osaka after French Open withdrawal


Naomi Osaka reveals 'bouts of depression' after shock French Open withdrawal.

Japan joined leading figures in tennis in rallying around Naomi Osaka on Tuesday after the world number two withdrew from the French Open in a row about post-match media duties, saying she had been suffering from depression and anxiety.

One of the biggest names in sport, Osaka stunned the tennis world when she pulled out of the Grand Slam on Monday after being fined and threatened with expulsion for declining to face the media after her first-round match on Sunday.

The four-times Grand Slam champion had last week signalled her intentions to skip her media duties to protect her mental well-being and she returned to Twitter on Monday to announce her withdrawal.

While her original stance had earned the Japanese 23-year-old little backing from her fellow professionals, most saying that dealing with the media was part of the job, her withdrawal triggered a wave of support from around the world.

"The first thing to be considered is Ms. Osaka's health. I wish her the earliest possible recovery," Japan Tennis Association (JTA) Executive Director Toshihisa Tsuchihashi said in a statement on Tuesday.

PatriciaMaria-FrenchOpenPatricia Maria returns the ball to Naomi Osaka during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament. AP

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a news conference that he would "watch over her quietly" and there was concern on the streets of Tokyo for the woman who will be one of the faces of this year's Olympic Games in the city. "I think she's under a lot of pressure, more than we can imagine," kimono dresser Tomomi Noguchi, 67, told Reuters. "She got to the top when she was young so I think we can't really imagine what she's going through."

Vickie Skorji, who manages a helpline at TELL, a non-profit counselling service in Japan, said society needed to be "more respectful and supportive" of mental health. "Who has asked her how she is doing? She put out a statement and said 'I need to take care of myself,' and she's been punished," Skorji told Reuters. "I think she is courageous and needs support."

On Monday, Osaka said she suffers "huge waves of anxiety" before speaking to the world's media. Williams offered support to Osaka. "The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi. I feel like I wish I could give her a hug," the 39-year-old American said after her first-round win. "Because I know what it's like. I've been in those positions."

Petra-Frenchopen Petra Kvitova returns the ball to Greet Minnen during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament. AP

American Sofia Kenin, who won the Australian Open and finished runner-up at Roland Garros last year, said dealing with the media demands of elite tennis was "definitely not easy" but it is what players "signed up for." "There's expectations from the outside, sponsors and everyone. You just have to somehow manage it. You have to have a good team around you who support you," the American said.

"I am so sad about Naomi Osaka. I truly hope she will be ok. As athletes we are taught to take care of our body, and perhaps the mental & emotional aspect gets short shrift. This is about more than doing or not doing a press conference. Good luck Naomi- we are all pulling for you!,” said Martina Navratilova.

The four-time Grand Slam champion made good on her threat on Sunday when, after winning her first round match, she did not hold a press conference. She was fined $15,000 by the Roland Garros referee, and Grand Slam organisers later issued a strongly worded statement warning of possible expulsion from the French Open and future majors if she failed to change her stance.

On Monday, the world No.2 decided to take matters into her own hands to end the stand-off. "This isn't a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago," the 23-year-old Osaka said 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 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."

PatriciaMaria750Patricia Maria clenches her fist as she plays Naomi Osaka. AP

Osaka, one of the biggest names in women's sport, went on to say she had suffered from depression since 2018. "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," she said. "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."

The French Tennis Federation (FFT), organisers of the tournament, called her withdrawal "unfortunate." Reading from a prepared statement at a news conference, FFT president Gilles Moretton said: "We are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka... we wish her the best and quickest possible recovery, and we look forward to having Naomi at our tournament next year. He added that the major tennis bodies were committed to athletes' well-being and improving their tournament experience, including their interaction with the media.

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) said mental health was one of the highest priorities of the organisation. "We remain here to support and assist Naomi in any way possible and we hope to see her back on the court soon," it said in a statement.

After beating Serena Williams to claim her first major at the 2018 US Open, Osaka was booed by the crowd during the presentation ceremony as her victory was overshadowed by the American's outburst following a row with the umpire. Osaka said that since then, she has struggled with being in the spotlight.

Osaka, who according to sports business website Sportico earned $55.2 million over the past 12 months, added that she would take some time away from tennis and hoped later to meet the sport's organisers to improve the system.

"I wrote privately to the tournament apologising and saying that I would be more than happy to speak with them after the tournament as the slams are intense," Osaka said.

"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."


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