Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka will not compete in this year’s Wimbledon, the second consecutive Grand Slam tournament she has missed due to what she has said are her mental health struggles.
Osaka, who lives in the U.S. but plays for Japan, will compete in the 2021 Summer Olympics, scheduled to begin July 23 in Tokyo.
“Naomi won’t be playing Wimbledon this year. She is taking some personal time with friends and family,” Osaka’s agent, Stuart Duguid, said in a statement to the New York Times. “She will be ready for the Olympics and is excited to play in front of her home fans.”
Osaka, 23, withdrew from the French Open earlier this month after being fined $15,000 for missing a post-match press conference.
Osaka, the world’s number two player, had announced at the start of the tournament she would not participate in the mandatory post-match news conferences in order to preserve her mental health.
“I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one,” the four-time Grand Slam winner wrote on Twitter. “We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.”
Osaka then withdrew from the French Open before the second round in the wake of the controversy.
“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,” Osaka wrote in a tweet announcing her exit, referring to her first Grand Slam title she won in an infamous final against Serena Williams. “Anyone that knows me knows that I’m introverted, and anyone that has seen me at tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety,”
Osaka went on to apologize to the press and said that while they have “always been kind” to her, she is not “a natural public speaker” and gets “huge waves of anxiety” before she speaks to the media.
“I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can,” she said. “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’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,” she wrote.
“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. Like I said, I’ve been in those positions,” Serena Williams said after Osaka withdrew from the French Open.
Wimbledon organizers said this week that they had been in touch with Osaka and other players about press at this year’s Wimbledon, which starts June 28.
“We have spoken to her [Osaka’s] team in the last few weeks,” All England Club chief executive Sally Bolton told the BBC on Thursday. “So yes, we’re certainly remaining engaged with Naomi’s team, as we are with all players.”
“We have started a consultation. Of course, that consultation needs to include not just the players, but the media and all of those engaged in that space,” Bolton said.
Tournament director Jamie Baker also said he informed Osaka’s team that organizers were “completely open for any discussions” in case of any issues, according to ESPN.
If you are in crisis or know someone in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. You can reach Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada) and The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386.
By Katie Kindelan