Tennis: World condemns Naomi Osaka treatment after she withdraws from French Open

The world was taken aback on Tuesday morning when it learnt Naomi Osaka was pulling out of the French Open.

The Japanese star released a lengthy statement saying she had “suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018” and was going to take some time out from the sport to focus on her wellbeing.

The bombshell decision, made ahead of Osaka’s second round clash with Ana Bogdan, comes as the tennis world furiously debated the world No. 2’s call to boycott all her media commitments in Paris, citing a lack of care for athletes’ mental health.

‘Shame on you’: World condemns Osaka treatment

Osaka was widely criticised in tennis circles before Tuesday’s announcement, as many took exception to her blaming the media for not respecting players’ mental health, saying it simply wasn’t true. Pundits suggested she was avoiding the press to deflect from her own struggles on clay and avoid being questioned about her poor form.

The four grand slams also issued a joint statement on Monday threatening Osaka with disqualification if she continued to snub the media.

After the 23-year-old opened up about her mental health struggles, upset fans vented their anger about how the four-time major winner had been hounded out of Paris, taking aim at the sport’s bosses for their lack of empathy.

Sports podcaster Dave Zirin said “the treatment of Osaka by the Lords of Tennis has been shameful” while reporter Dov Kleinman tweeted: “This is a shameful situation for those forcing Osaka to withdrew from the French Open.”

Donal Logue wrote: “Every major sport pays lip service to how issues surrounding mental health are a priority, but when Naomi Osaka begs for help because she’s struggling, @rolandgarros and the folks at the French Open kick her out of the tourney,” adding the hashtag “shame on you”.

Writer Katie O’Brien added: “Naomi Osaka choosing to take care of her mental health, being punished for doing so and then apologising for taking care of herself seems to prove her initial point/concern perfectly.”

Rus McLaughlin wrote: “All four Grand Slam directors publicly threatened Naomi Osaka’s career for not doing press conferences. That doing the puppet theatre is more important to them than top athletes playing the game itself pretty much solidifies my opinion of the International Tennis Federation.”

Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim also took aim at the way the four majors ganged up on Osaka, accusing them of sending a “harsh, even menacing and humiliating statement, essentially threatening to ban her”.

“There is also disappointment and even anger here, because it should not have come to this,” Wertheim wrote.

“To use a French word, a little nuance would have been nice. A cursory knowledge of Osaka would have gone a long way.”

Boyfriend issues defiant message, tennis stars react

Osaka’s boyfriend, rapper Cordae, issued a defiant comment on her Instagram post announcing her withdrawal.

“No need to apologise to ANYBODY!” he wrote.

Fellow pros also rallied behind the world No. 2. Teenage tennis star Coco Gauff responded to Osaka’s statement by writing: “Stay strong. I admire your vulnerability.”

Venus Williams commented: “So proud of you. Take care of yourself and see you back winning soon!”

Sloane Stephens said: “We’re behind you babygirl, take the time you need!”

Former pro Mardy Fish added: “Mental health is nothing to criticise. Nothing to joke about. Pls take your mental health seriously. Without my support system, I truly believe I would not be here today. Here for you.”

Tennis icon Martina Navratilova tweeted: “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.”

NBA stud Steph Curry also weighed in. “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 @naomiosaka,” he wrote.

A post shared by 大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka)

Tennis boss’ ironic statement

Last week French Tennis Federation (FFT) president Gilles Moretton lambasted Osaka for making a “phenomenal error” to boycott press conferences. On Tuesday he fronted reporters and issued a statement on her exit, but left without taking any questions.

“The outcome of Naomi withdrawing from Roland Garros is unfortunate. We wish her the best and the quickest possible recovery, and we look forward to having Naomi in our tournament next year,” he said.

“As all the Grand Slams, the WTA, the ATP, and the ITF, we remain very committed to all athletes’ wellbeing, and to continually improving every aspect of players’ experience in our tournament — including with the media, like we have always strived to do.”

Tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg tweeted: “The immense irony of the FFT President not taking questions from the media in the wake of this Osaka withdrawal is not lost on anyone.”

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