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Is Naomi Osaka depressed? Tennis star reveals 'social anxiety' amid French Open exit

'I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world's media,' Osaka said in a statement
Naomi Osaka of Japan looks dejected during the match with Jessica Pegula of USA at Foro Italico on May 12, 2021 (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Naomi Osaka of Japan looks dejected during the match with Jessica Pegula of USA at Foro Italico on May 12, 2021 (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, who is currently World No 2, has shockingly pulled out of the French Open citing her mental health. The decision came after she was fined $15,000 and threatened with expulsion after skipping the post-match press conferences. In an elaborate statement issued on Twitter, the 4-time Grand Slam champion opened up about her struggles with depression and anxiety, and how the mandatory post-match media conference often worsens it. 

Fans of the tennis icon unequivocally supported her decision and slammed the French Open for the strict rules that often border on inconsiderate. While internet users came forward to 'stand with' Osaka, some fans, like actress Jameela Jamil, even called for boycotting the French Open. Even Serena Williams expressed her support to Osaka, whose stern decision to put mental health as a top priority was lauded by most. 


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Is Naomi Osaka depressed?

Osaka withdrew from the second round of the tournament after winning the first-round match against Patricia Maria Tig on Sunday, May 30, 2021. She got embroiled in controversy for deliberately missing out on the press conference and consequently being penalized for the same. A week before, she had declared her refusal to attend media conferences, stating that those are detrimental to her mental health, according to Daily Mail.

However, she received strong responses from four grand slams condemning her decision, as well as little solidarity from other players. Following the controversy around the situation, Osaka decided to pull out of the French Open leaving a huge question mark on her appearance at the upcoming Wimbledon tournament. The organizers of the Grand Slams were stunned by her uncompromising stance on the issue at a juncture when she ran the risk of being banned due to non-compliance with preset rules.

Naomi Osaka (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

"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," Osaka wrote in her statement. She added, "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 pre-emptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that."

Speaking about her earlier trysts with depression and anxiety, Osaka opened up, "'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."

Fuelling doubts about her future in the court, Osaka stated, "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."

'Imagine punishing someone for having anxiety... in 2021'

Tennis legend Serena Williams expressed her solidarity with Osaka in poignant words while addressing the media. "I wish I could give her a hug right now because I know what it's like," she said. Actress Jameela Jamil expressed her sincere support to Osaka soon after she released her poignant statement. "Let’s boycott the French open. Naomi is the most exciting player anyway. Imagine punishing someone for having anxiety... in 2021," she tweeted.

Fellow tennis player Coco Gauff tweeted, "stay strong I admire your vulnerability." 

"Thank you for having the strength and courage to demand that your boundaries be respected," wrote film director Karyn Maughan.

TV host SE Cupp tweeted, "Never apologize for putting your mental health first." Health advocate Cleavon Gliman wrote, "Imagine having the WORST DAY at work and then REQUIRED to do a press conference on how you messed up. Then having that interview played over and over again on all major news and social media. That's not good for mental health."