Four time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the French Open after facing a penalty from tour organisers for skipping media obligations. Earlier in the week, Osaka posted a statement on social media explaining her decision to skip post match press conferences, citing mental health concerns.
The 23 year old was fined US$15,000 and threatened with further penalties, such as disqualification or suspension, after she failed to attend a media conference after her first-round win over Romanian Patricia Tig.
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) May 31, 2021
Media, social media and athletes alike are split on their opinion of Osaka's decision and what it means for tournaments in the future and tennis more generally. After Osaka's initial statement, 13 time French Open winner Rafael Nadal conceded that while he respected Osaka's decision, he believed that the role of the media was integral in the sport.
"Obviously I respect your choice. I respect you as an athlete and as a person. We as athletes have to be ready to accept questions and try to give an answer. I understand it, but on the other hand I believe that without the press, without the people who usually travel, writing the news and the results we get around the world, probably wouldn't be the athletes we are today" Nadal told reporters at a pre-tournament press conference.
While last year's women's champion Iga Swiatek added: "I think it's part of our job".
Following her withdrawal from the tournament, fellow athletes, such as Stephen Curry, Martina Navratilova and Nico Rosberg have voiced their support for the world number 2.
Former world number seven Mardy Fish, who has been vocal about his own mental health issues, backed Osaka's decision in a tweet.
"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 @naomiosaka," Fish wrote.
Athletes across the sports world showed support for Naomi Osaka after her decision to withdraw from the French Open this morning. pic.twitter.com/t6gwupIQvq
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) May 31, 2021
While Serena Williams spoke candidly about her own experiences as a young player,
"The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi" Williams said in her own press conference following her first-round win.
"I think she is doing the best that she can"
Media figures also added their voices to the debate.
"This was a rough saga, but I think this was the best call for Naomi, unfortunate as it is for her and for tennis. If she's not in a headspace to be under pressures of a Slam, best thing she can do is remove herself from that high-stress environment and focus on her well-being." New York Times contributor Ben Rothenberg wrote on Twitter.
While Portuguese tennis writer Jose Morgado tweeted: "This entire situation is a mess. Terrible look for everybody involved tbh. And terrible for the sport".
Osaka withdraws from #RolandGarros. Ana Bogdan into R3.
This entire situation is a mess. Terrible look for everybody involved tbh. And terrible for the sport. https://t.co/32L6HY4sKZ
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) May 31, 2021
While current players were quick to back Osaka in the comments of her latest Instagram post, the social media response from some fans seemed less favourable.
Naomi Osaka is the quintessential example of Gen Z. https://t.co/MbPd2KgMNt
— Harminder Singh (@hsingh_hk) June 1, 2021
15 million dollars a year, at 23 years old.
Play tennis at some amazing tournaments and one of few requirements is to simply talk to press for 5-15 mins. We all have to do things we don’t like and this isn’t any different.
This is just a part of having a job. https://t.co/wu56hixLC6
— Christopher Fore (@chrisfore4) June 1, 2021
It's a bummer. As a big fan of Osaka and the sport, I love to hear what players have to say- win or lose. When done well, it provides us fans perspective, insight, and knowledge...like all jobs there is good and bad. I understand her POV but disagree
— Brandon Lee (@BaselineBrandon) May 27, 2021
Other fans however, who have watched the International Tennis Federation (ITF) take a lax approach to issues relating to racial and gender equality and public health measures over the last 12 months were quick to back the 23 year old and criticise the stance of the French Open and ITF.
I don't think the organizers of the French Open expected that kind of reaction from Naomi Osaka, but her principles on mental health are really clear and this is why she is a role model to so many people
— Karen K. Ho (@karenkho) May 31, 2021
the world men’s #1 tennis player has been pushing anti-vaccine positions all year with no penalty and the women’s #1 naomi osaka has to withdraw from French open to protect her own mental health? The tour is completely backwards on health.
— Andrew Baback Boozary MD (@drandrewb) May 31, 2021
They fine Naomi Osaka and threaten her career because of an act of self care on her part by choosing not answer media questions, and then the French tennis big shot REFUSES TO ANSWER MEDIA QUESTIONS about what happened. Mind-blowing hypocrisy and shameful cowardice. pic.twitter.com/l07VmndQMw
— Greg Pinelo (@gregpinelo) May 31, 2021
Osaka mentioned in her statement that she will be taking some time away from the court but has not publicly stated if she will play at Wimbledon which gets underway later this month.
The French Open continues with Nadal headlining day three, beginning his title defence.