"I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly"

Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the French Open after refusing to attend a press conference.

On Wednesday, the 23-year-old Olympic medalist said she would not attend any news conference at the French Open, citing mental health reasons.

“I’ve watched many clips of athletes breaking down after a loss in the press room,” Osaka said in a Twitter statement. “I believe that whole situation is kicking a person while they’re down and I don’t understand the reasoning behind it.

“If the organizations think that they can just keep saying ‘do press or you’re gonna be fined’, and continue to ignore the mental health of the athletes that are the centerpiece of their cooperation then I just gotta laugh.”

Osaka was fined $15,000 for not talking to the media but the tennis star said the fines incurred would go toward a mental health charity.

On Monday, Osaka announced she would withdraw from the tournament after defeating Romania’s Patricia Maria Tig in straight sets on Sunday.

“This isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago. I think now 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,” Osaka wrote on social media.

“I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and message could have been clearer. More importantly I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly.”

“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.

“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.”

“I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can. 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 I announced it preemptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that. I wrote privately to the tournament apologizing and saying that I would be more than happy to speak with them after the tournament as the Slams are intense.”

“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.”

French Tennis Federation president Gilles Moretton expressed sympathy for the tennis star and criticised the French Open for mocking Osaka by posting photos of Rafael Nadal, Kei Nishikori, Aryna Sabalenka and Coco Gauff engaging in media duties with the caption: “They understood the assignment.”

“I understand your attempt at making a point but this isn’t a good look,” Moretton said. “I mean these particular players are a great look for tennis but making a player feel guilty & humiliating her is NOT a good look for a tennis fed.”

“The outcome of Naomi withdrawing from Roland-Garros is unfortunate. We wish her the best and quickest possible recovery, and we look forward to having Naomi at our Tournament next year,” Moretton’s statement read.

“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.”

In other sport news, NFL assistant coach Eugene Chung has revealed he was told Asians were “not the right minority” in a job interview.