Grand Slams vow to make 'meaningful improvements' after Osaka quits French Open due to mental health

ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent reports on how the tennis world has reacted to Osaka's withdrawal

Organisers of the four tennis Grand Slams have pledged to make "meaningful improvements" around player experience and mental health in the wake of Naomi Osaka withdrawing from the French Open.

Osaka announced she was dropping out of the tournament on Monday following a row over her decision not to speak to the media or take part in post-match press conferences.

Organisers of the French Open, Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open fined the world number two $15,000 and threatened her with expulsion from future tournaments, before the tennis star withdrew herself.

The 23-year-old opened up about the long bouts of depression she has suffered since being thrust into the global spotlight, and said she would be taking a break from the sport.

Now the heads of the four Grand Slams have said they will "advance mental health and wellbeing through further actions".

In a statement, the group said: "We wish to offer Naomi Osaka our support and assistance in any way possible as she takes time away from the court. She is an exceptional athlete and we look forward to her return as soon as she deems appropriate.

"Mental health is a very challenging issue, which deserves our utmost attention.

"We commend Naomi for sharing in her own words the pressures and anxieties she is feeling and we empathise with the unique pressures tennis players may face."

The continued: "Together as a community we will continue to improve the player experience at our tournaments, including as it relates to media."

But added: "Change should come through the lens of maintaining a fair playing field, regardless of ranking or status. Sport requires rules and regulations to ensure that no player has an unfair advantage over another."

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

It's not clear how long she'll be stepping away from the sport for, or whether she'll compete in Wimbledon next month.

Top names from the sport and beyond have voiced their support for the star.

Retired tennis pro Boris Becker said: "I almost feel like her career is in danger because of mental health issues and that we should take very seriously."

Speaking on Eurosport, Becker - who struggled with his own early success and fame - said: "Without the media there isn’t any prize money, there isn’t any contracts. And you don’t get half the cake.

"I hated the media, personally. I didn’t like to speak to journalists, but I had to do it."

He said he worried Osaka pulling out of the French Open would mean "she can't cope" with media obligations at the other major tournaments too.

Boris Becker was declared bankrupt in June 2017. Credit: PA

Elsewhere former tennis great Martina Navratilova said: "Clearly this is about more than doing a press conference after the match or not doing a press conference after the match.

"Once she said the word depression, which is only up to her to tell the world about, then everything changes. Now it’s about her taking care of herself and hopefully find a solution.

"It’s such a difficult situation. We’ve never had this happen before. Maybe some people over-reacted with what the fines were and all this stuff but the rules are there for a reason because people would find an excuse. Hers is not an excuse, this is a real reason."

Regarding what she hopes will happen now, Navratilova added: "Only support her and appreciate the strength it took to say that."

Serena Williams 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."

Former Wales and GB sprinter Colin Jackson told ITV News he had "total empathy" for Osaka.

'You know there's got to be something wrong'

"We've got to look at the holistic health of sports stars," he said.

"If Naomi didn't feel very comfortable in a certain circumstance, because she was suffering with mental issues, then I totally have empathy with that," Jackson added.

"The really important thing for us is never to question her reasons why, but understand that she's saying this because she needs to have that break.

"There are rules and regulations and so if somebody wants to work hard against them, you know there's got to be something wrong".