PARIS: Naomi Osaka tweeted the following statement announcing her withdrawal from the French Open: "Hey everyone, this isn't a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago. 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 idea and my message could have been clearer. More importantly I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly. 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. 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."
"Though the tennis press has always been kind to me (and I wanna apologize especially to all the cool journalists who I may have hurt), I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world's media. I get rally nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can. 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"I announced it preemptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that. I wrote privately to the tournament apologizing and saying that I would be more than happy to speak with them after the tournament as the Slams are intense. 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. Anyways hope you are all doing well and staying safe, love you guys I'll see you when i see you (heart emoji)".
Here are some key reactions on Osaka's announcement:
"I feel for Naomi. Not everyone is the same. I'm thick. Other people are thin. Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently. You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to and the best way she thinks she can. That's the only thing I can say: I think she is doing the best she can," said Serena Williams.
"I am so sad about Naomi Osaka. I truly hope she will be ok. As athletes we are taught to take care of our body, and perhaps the mental & emotional aspect gets short shrift. This is about more than doing or not doing a press conference. Good luck Naomi- we are all pulling for you!," said Martina Navratilova.
"It's incredibly brave that Naomi Osaka has revealed her truth about her struggle with depression. Right now, the important thing is that we give her the space and time she needs. We wish her well," said Billie Jean King.
"You shouldnt ever have to make a decison like this-but so damn impressive taking the high road when the powers that be dont protect their own. major respect," said Warriors guard Stephen Curry.
"Love, respect, and positive energy your way," Cavaliers forward Kevin Love.
"It's so sad that we are in a time that when a young person tells you they need help or a break, people respond with anger and a lack of support! I stand with you. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health," said former WNBA star Lisa Leslie.
Reaction in Japan was largely sympathetic, with one Twitter user urging Osaka to "take a good, long break".
"I hope she gets to eat what she wants, watch what she wants and listen to what she wants. I hope she wraps herself up in a fluffy blanket and takes it easy until she feels content."
Her withdrawal follows the fall-out from her decision to boycott press conferences at the tournament, which she said were like "kicking people when they are down".
Osaka is expected to represent Japan at the July-August Tokyo Olympics, and will be one of the host country's highest-profile athletes at the Games if she takes part.
But Japanese fans urged her to take care of herself first and foremost.
"I dare say she might withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics," wrote one Twitter user.
"It's disappointing, but I hope she takes her time and gets well."
Others welcomed Osaka's openness about her mental health, a subject rarely discussed by public figures in Japan.
Former tennis player Ai Sugiyama told a morning show she hoped Osaka's actions could "make a splash and create an opportunity to talk about athlete's mental health", the Sports Hochi reported.
"There's a big difference between people's personalities, and I think we need to consider things on a case-by-case basis," said Sugiyama, who reached a career-high number eight world ranking.
"I think the system where you absolutely have to turn up and you're fined if you don't is a little out-dated."
Some Twitter users questioned whether Osaka was feeling the strain of competing for titles and speaking out against racial injustice.
"Naomi Osaka is fighting -- against herself, against pressure, against fixed ideas, against discrimination," tweeted TV presenter Ruriko Kojima.
"All these things surely cause her anguish. I just can't imagine the pressure she carries on her shoulders. It's such a different perspective. I hope she gets some time where she can laugh and relax."
(With AFP Inputs)