French Open boss' 'cowardly' act after Naomi Osaka withdrawal

·6-min read
Naomi Osaka is seen here during the build-up to the 2021 French Open.
Naomi Osaka's French Open withdrawal has left the tennis world stunned. Pic: Getty

French tennis federation president Gilles Moretton has been called out for the stunning irony of his statement about Naomi Osaka's bombshell decision to withdraw from the grand slam tournament.

Osaka stunned the tennis world on Tuesday (AEST) by pulling out of the French Open, explaining she had been suffering from depression for almost three years.

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The Japanese star said in the build-up to the tournament that she would not attend the obligatory press conferences for players after matches, saying the questioning by journalists stresses her mental health.

The 23-year-old was fined after following through with that threat in the wake of her first round win at Roland-Garros, before making the call to withdraw from the tournament before her second round match.

The French tennis federation president addressed the "unfortunate" situation on Tuesday in a short press conference that included no questions from media afterwards.

"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 Naomi in our tournament next year," Moretton said.

"As all the Grand Slams, the WTA, the ATP, and the ITF, we remain very committed to all athletes' well-being, and to continually improving every aspect of players' experience in our tournament - including with the media, like we have always strived to do. Thank you."

The irony that Moretton did not face the media's questions after the press conference - particularly after addressing Osaka's situation - was not lost on tennis fans who vented their anger on social media.

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After her first round win, Osaka was fined $15,000 ($A19,400) by the Roland Garros referee, and grand slam organisers later issued a strongly worded statement warning of possible expulsion from the French Open and future majors if she failed to change her stance on boycotting press conferences.

Citing her ongoing battle with depression, the 23-year-old sensationally took matters into her own hands to end the stand-off.

"This isn't a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago," the world No.2 posted on Twitter.

"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.

"I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer."

Pictured here, Naomi Osaka at the French Open in 2021.
Naomi Osaka in action during the opening round of the French Open. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Japanese star battling depression

Osaka, one of the biggest names in women's sport, went on to say she had been battling depression for a number of years.

"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," she said.

"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."

After beating Serena Williams at Flushing Meadows to claim her first major in 2018, Osaka was booed by the crowd during the presentation ceremony as her victory was overshadowed by the American's outburst after a row with the umpire.

Osaka said that since then she has struggled in the spotlight, suffering "huge waves of anxiety" before speaking to the world's media.

Williams, after her first-round match in Paris, offered her support to Osaka.

"You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to, in the best way she thinks she can, and that's the only thing I can say," Williams said.

"I think she's doing the best that she can."

Osaka tweeted that she would take some time away from tennis and hoped later to meet the sport's organisers to improve the system for "the players, press and fans".

Wimbledon starts in four weeks while Osaka's next tournament is scheduled to be in Berlin on grass in two weeks' time.

with agencies

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