Tennis: Osaka withdraws from French Open in wake of media boycott row

Japan's Naomi Osaka stunned the French Open on May 31 when she announced she was withdrawing from the tournament in the wake of her decision to boycott post-match media duties, explaining she had been suffering from depression for almost three years.

PARIS (AFP) - Naomi Osaka said on Monday (May 31) that she was withdrawing from the French Open following the bitter fallout from her decision to boycott all media activity at the Grand Slam event.

"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," the world No. 2 wrote on Twitter.

The 23-year-old Japanese star was fined US$15,000 (S$19,820) on Sunday and threatened with disqualification after she refused to carry out a mandatory news conference following her first round win.

She claimed on the eve of Roland Garros that such post-match inquests were akin to "kicking people when they are down" and that they had a detrimental effect on her mental health.

"I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer," the four-time Grand Slam title winner said in her statement.

"The truth is I have suffered bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that."

She added: "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"I announced it pre-emptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that.

Serena Williams, 39, was inevitably asked for her reaction to Osaka’s decision following her first-round win over Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu.

“Honestly I just found out before I walked into the press conference, so that’s the extent of it right now for me,” Williams told reporters.

Pushed for her opinion on Osaka’s claim last week that post-match media conferences were damaging her mental wellbeing, and Monday’s unexpected development, Williams said: “The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi.

“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.

“We have different personalities, and people are different. Not everyone is the same. I’m thick (skinned). 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, in the best way she thinks she can, and that’s the only thing I can say. I think she’s doing the best that she can.”

Williams said it was important for players to have someone to use as a “sounding board” in tough times.

“You have to be able to make an effort and say, I need help with A, B, C, and D, and talk to someone,” she said.

“Whether it’s someone at the WTA or whether it’s someone in your life. Maybe it’s someone that you just talk to on a weekly basis. I’ve been in that position, too.

“I’ve definitely had opportunities to talk to people, kind of get things off my chest that I can’t necessarily talk to anyone in my family or anyone that I know.