Naomi Osaka withdraws from French Open tennis tournament amid controversy over media boycott

ITV News Correspondent Chris Skudder has reaction from the tennis world

Tennis star Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the French Open and plans to "take some time away from the court".

It follows controversy over her decision not to speak to the media at the tournament.

The 23-year-old, who cited mental health reasons for why she was not speaking to the press, was fined 15,000 US dollars and threatened with expulsion by tournament organisers.Announcing she was withdrawing, the world number two wrote on Twitter: “Hey everyone, 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.”

Naomi Osaka. Credit: AP

Osaka said she had suffered bouts of depression since winning her first slam title at the US Open in 2018 and that talking to the media triggered anxiety.

At the event, the tennis pro lifted the trophy to a chorus of boos after opponent Serena Williams was awarded a game penalty, and that talking to the media triggered anxiety.

“I never wanted to be be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer,” she wrote.

She continued: “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."

She added: “Though the tennis press has always been kind to me (and I wanna apologise 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.”

The head of the French Tennis Federation, Gilles Moretton, responded on Monday.

Reading a statement to the media, he said: "First and foremost, we are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka.

"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 her at our tournament next year.

"The grand slams, WTA, ATP and ITF, we remain very committed to all athletes’ well-being and to continually improving all aspects of their experience, including with the media, like we have always tried to do."

Former British number one Annabel Croft told ITV News the tennis world felt "shock" and "sadness" following Osaka's announcement.

'It was maybe brewing - but there's great sadness'

"I think the tennis world needs to understand why she feels that way she does about speaking to the press and try to work together on this.

"She's only 23, she's had enormous pressure on her shoulders."

"She played in one of the most famous matches when she beat Serena Williams in that great controversy a few years ago, and then of course she's been a great spokesperson for Black Lives Matter - she wore all the different masks at the US Open," Croft continued.

'She's had enormous pressure on her shoulders,' says Annabel Croft

"We need to try and understand it, we need to be sympathetic and try to help her through it, but we want her to engage with the press."

Osaka won her opening match at the French Open on Sunday against Patricia Maria Tig.

The tennis star, who was born in Japan and moved to the USA aged three, won her fourth grand slam title at the Australian Open in February.

Fellow athletes responded to her statement.

Williams only found out about Osaka’s withdrawal after winning her first-round match against Irina-Camelia Begu.

She said: "The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi. I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it’s like. I’ve been in those positions.

"We have different personalities, and people are different. Not everyone is the same. I’m thick. Other people are thin. You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to, in the best way she thinks she can."

American Coco Gauff replied to Osaka’s tweet to express her support and admiration. The world number 25 wrote: “Stay strong. I admire your vulnerability.”

Martina Navratilova tweeted her best wishes, saying: “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 and 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!

“And kudos to Naomi Osaka for caring so much about the other players. While she tried to make a situation better for herself and others, she inadvertently made it worse. Hope this solution, pulling out, as brutal as it is will allow her to start healing and take care of her SELF.”