Naomi Osaka sparks Wimbledon concerns with latest withdrawal

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Naomi Osaka is pictured here in training before the French Open in 2021.
Naomi Osaka has not made it clear when she intends on returning to tennis after taking a break for mental health reasons. Pic: Getty

Naomi Osaka has pulled out of next week's Berlin WTA grass court tournament, raising doubts about the four-times grand slam champion's participation at Wimbledon later this month.

The decision comes after Japanese world No.2 Osaka pulled out of the French Open last week on mental health grounds.

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"We have received notification Naomi Osaka cannot start in Berlin. After consulting her management, she will take a break," Berlin event organisers said in a statement ahead of the tournament which begins on June 14.

Osaka has not revealed when she plans to play next, casting doubt on her participation at Wimbledon, which starts on June 28, and the Tokyo Olympics next month.

The 23-year-old four-time Grand Slam winner has been in the spotlight since withdrawing from Roland Garros after a dispute over her refusal to attend press conferences.

As a result, French tennis officials fined Osaka $15,000 and threatened to axe her from the tournament for not honouring mandatory media commitments, prompting the Japanese star to withdraw.

Over the weekend Osaka commented for the first time since announcing her withdrawal - thanking her supporters in a brief message on Instagram.

"Just want to say thank you for all the love. Haven’t been on my phone much but I wanted to hop on here and tell you all that I really appreciate it," Osaka wrote.

Leading commentator Sam Smith said last week she was hopeful Wimbledon organisers could find a way to work with Osaka to confirm her availability for the grass court grand slam.

"The English are great at getting around tables and thrashing things out, and obviously we want Naomi to play at Wimbledon, so I'm just hoping the All England Club speak to her management, and Naomi if possible, and find a way to get through this so that's she's OK," she told Wide World of Sports.

"The irony is she's done this to relieve the pressure from the media, and it's had completely the opposite effect.

"It's caused a media storm, and caused a lot of fallout on her fellow competitors who've had to answer questions about it, which she did not intend at all."

Seen here, Naomi Osaka in preparation for the 2021 French Open.
Naomi Osaka has pulled out of the German Open in Berlin, one of the lead-in grass court tournaments for Wimbledon. Pic: Getty

Tennis legend and six-time major champion Boris Becker also expressed concerns for Osaka's career last week after insisting press conferences were simply part of life as an elite athlete.

"She couldn't cope with the pressures of facing the media after she loses a match, but that happens frequently and you have to deal with it," Becker said.

"If she can't cope with the media in Paris, she can't cope with the media in Wimbledon or the US Open. So I almost feel like her career is in danger due to mental health issues."

Fellow tennis great Pam Shriver also weighed in by claiming "Wimbledon is very much in doubt" for Osaka after the French Open bombshell.

Tennis bodies promise mental health review

Meanwhile, two of tennis's governing bodies have promised to review the impact of the press on players' mental health in the wake of the Osaka saga.

Roland Garros organisers, the French tennis federation (FFT), said no changes will be made regarding players' press responsibilities for the ongoing edition of the clay court grand slam.

Yet the global governing body, the International Tennis Federation (ITF), has promised a comprehensive review.

"Naomi Osaka's recent statements have shone a light on mental health issues, a matter that we all take extremely seriously," the ITF told Reuters.

"Tennis is aligned and will work together, with input from players and media amongst others, to review what needs to evolve across the sport as a whole.

Press conferences are obligatory when requested by the media at grand slams and even the smallest tournaments allow access to players before the start and if requested on match days, win or lose.

That could change, on the women's tour at least, after Osaka said that expecting players to answer questions after defeats amounted to "kicking a person while they're down".

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) said it would also be launching a review.

Wimbledon organisers, who will host the grasscourt grand slam in three weeks, said changes would take time.

with agencies

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