WASHINGTON — Star tennis player Naomi Osaka opened up about her mental health break following the French Open and how she hopes to make Japanese fans "proud" during the Tokyo Olympics in an essay for TIME magazine.
In May, Osaka was fined $15,000 when she didn’t speak to reporters after her first-round victory at the French Open. The next day, she pulled out of the tournament entirely, saying she experiences “huge waves of anxiety” before meeting with the media and revealing she has “suffered long bouts of depression.”
She addressed her decision in a TIME essay by saying, "Lesson one: you can never please everyone." She explains that she decided not to speak with reporters during the press conference because she needed to "take care of myself mentally." However, she said she could have been more prepared for the repercussion and criticism that followed.
"Perhaps we should give athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions," Osaka suggests. "In any other line of work, you would be forgiven for taking a personal day here and there, so long as it’s not habitual."
Osaka also says former First Lady Michelle Obama and sports stars Novak Djokovic, Michael Phelps and Stephen Curry were among those who reached out to offer support after she withdrew from the French Open.
Osaka also highlighted how, in her opinion, she believes the press conference format is "out of date and in great need of a refresh." She hopes her decision to miss the press conference would encourage a critical look at the system and potentially make a change for the better.
In June, Osaka announced she would skip Wimbledon, but is prepared and excited to compete in the Olympics, which begin in two weeks on July 23.
Before the games, Osaka wrote for TIME she could not be more excited to play.
"An Olympic Games itself is special, but to have the opportunity to play in front of the Japanese fans is a dream come true," Osaka wrote. "I hope I can make them proud."
Osaka is a 23-year-old who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father; the family moved to the United States when she was 3 and she is still based there.
Osaka has been ranked No. 1 and is currently No. 2; she is the highest-earning female athlete and was the 2020 AP Female Athlete of the Year. She is 14-3 this season, including a title at the Australian Open in February.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.