One of the world’s biggest tennis stars, Japan’s Naomi Osaka, said Wednesday she will not speak with the media during this year’s French Open because of the toll press conferences take on players’ emotional wellbeing.
“I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes mental health and this rings true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one,” Osaka, ranked No. 2 in the world, wrote in a post shared on her Instagram and Twitter accounts when announcing her decision.
“We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me,” she added.
The tennis star said she had watched many clips of players breaking down in the press room after losing matches, and that subjecting athletes to questions from journalists in those situations amounts to “kicking a person while they are down.”
The decision has a real world impact because players can be fined up to $20,000 for skipping post-match briefings at Grand Slams unless they are injured and physically unable to appear, but it’s not uncommon for players to take the hit and skip them anyway after particularly hard losses.
In her post, Osaka said she hoped that the “considerable amount” that she was expecting to be fined would go toward a mental health charity.
It’s not clear whether Osaka will not be taking part in press conferences at any other tournaments.
Osaka’s statement has generated more than 7,000 comments on Instagram, including from her fellow tennis players.
American Venus Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion, said: “Girl, do you. Your life is yours to live!” Williams, and her sister, tennis legend Serena Williams, have both been previously fined for missing press conferences at major tournaments.
Soft-spoken Osaka has so far had a largely amicable relationship with the press.
In her post, she said her decision was “nothing personal” against the tournament, adding that she has had “a friendly relationship” with mostof the journalists who cover the sport.
But she added: “If the organizations think that they can just keep saying, ‘do the press or you’re gonna be fined,’ and continue to ignore the mental health of the athletes that are the centerpiece of their corporation then I just gotta laugh.”
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NBC News has reached out to the French Tennis Federation, which organizes the French Open, the Women’s Tennis Association and the International Tennis Federation for comment, as well as Osaka’s long list of sponsors, including Nike and Louis Vuitton.
The Japanese-Haitian player, who has taken tennis world by storm since her breakout in 2018, has already won four Grand Slam titles at the age of 23. Earlier this month, she was named Sportswoman of the Year by the prestigious Laureus World Sports Awards.
She earned more than $55 million last year, a record for a female athlete, according to sports business website Sportico.
Osaka has also used her voice to become a champion for racial equality on and off the court. At last year’s U.S. Open, she wore seven face masks, each carrying the name of a victim of racist violence.
French Open qualifiers are underway, with the main draw set to begin Sunday.