Before anything else can be said about the controversy that overshadowed the start of the French Open and ultimately led to Naomi Osaka’s stunning withdrawal on Monday, it’s important to acknowledge that few of us can even pretend to understand what it’s been like to be her over the last three years.
When you take a shy, sometimes awkward and mostly unknown young person who isn’t even 21 years old, turn them into a global sports superstar almost overnight, make them the highest-earning female athlete on the planet and have them represent a country that has never claimed a tennis player of such magnitude, there is no playbook. For some, it might come naturally. For others, you can imagine it being deeply uncomfortable and invasive, full of anxieties and pressures that can place undue strain on mental well-being.
In Osaka’s announcement Monday that she is pulling out of the French Open — after several days of escalating narratives about her initial announcement that she wouldn’t fulfill the tournament’s media obligations and a stern response from the Grand Slam tournaments — she revealed that she has suffered bouts of depression since winning the 2018 U.S. Open. Further, she said she will take some time away from tennis, and it’s unclear when she intends to return.
If Osaka was not in the right space mentally to compete under the pressure of a Grand Slam, withdrawing from the tournament is the best thing she could have done for her own sake. Her well-being is more important than any tennis match.
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