Naomi Osaka said former first lady Michelle Obama and sports stars Novak Djokovic, Michael Phelps and Stephen Curry were among those who reached out to offer support after she pulled out of the Open. France to take a mental health break.
In an essay in Time magazine’s Olympic preview issue, on sale Friday, Osaka – a four-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1-ranked player – wrote that she hopes “we can adopt measures to protect athletes, especially the most fragile ones,” and suggests that they be allowed to sometimes skip media duties without punishment.
“There may be times for each of us where we deal with issues behind the scenes,” said 23-year-old Osaka. “Each of us, as human beings, goes through something on some level.”
Prior to the start of the French Open, she said she would not speak to the media during this tournament, saying such interactions were uncomfortable at times and would create doubts for her on the pitch. Following her first-round victory in Paris, Osaka was fined $15,000 for skipping her mandatory press conference and threatened with all four Grand Slams with the possibility of disqualification or suspension if she continued to avoid the media.
Osaka later withdrew from that tournament, saying she suffered from anxiety before press conferences and had experienced bouts of depression in recent years.
“Believe it or not, I’m naturally introverted and don’t court the spotlight,” she wrote for Time. “I always try to push myself to stand up for what I think is right, but that often results in great anxiety.”
She has not played since Paris, also absent from Wimbledon, which ends on Sunday.
She will return to competition at the Tokyo Olympics, which open on July 23, where she will represent her native Japan.
“It became apparent to me that literally everyone suffers from mental health issues or knows someone who does,” Osaka wrote in her essay, later adding, “I hope people can s identify and understand that it’s OK to not be OK, and it’s OK to talk about it.
On press conferences, Osaka said she thinks “the format itself is outdated and badly in need of a refresh.”
She also proposed giving tennis players “a small number of ‘sick days’ a year, where you are excused from your press commitments without having to disclose your personal reasons. I believe this would align the sport with the rest of society.
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