Osaka to skip news conferences at French Open, cites mental health

Naomi Osaka
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Four-times Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka on Wednesday said she will not take questions from the press at this year’s French Open, saying the nature of news conferences puts an undue burden on players’ mental health.

Players can be fined up to $20 000 for skipping a media conference at Grand Slams and Osaka said she hoped the “considerable amount” that she expected to be fined would go towards a mental health charity.

“I’m writing this to say I’m not going to do any press during Roland Garros,” the Japanese world number two wrote on Twitter.

“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. 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.”

Expecting players to answer questions after losses amounted to “kicking a person while they’re down”, Osaka added.

Osaka, 23, made headlines earlier this week when sports business website Sportico reported she had earned $55.2 million over the past 12 months, a record haul for a female athlete.

French Open qualifiers are underway with the main draw set to start from Sunday at Roland Garros with the final scheduled on June 13.

The claycourt Grand Slam has never been a happy hunting ground for Osaka, who skipped the event last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She has never gone past the third round in her four appearances.

World governing body International Tennis Federation, French tennis federation FFT, which organises the major, and the WTA Tour did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for Japanese car manufacturer Nissan Motor, one of Osaka’s long list of sponsors, said it has no comment. Her other sponsors did not respond to requests for comment.

Osaka, a former world number one, said the decision was “nothing personal” against the tournament and noted she had a friendly relationship with many of the tour’s journalists. She hoped tournaments would reconsider their approach.

She later tweeted a video of former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch famously repeating the line “I’m just here so I won’t get fined”, at a pre-Super Bowl press conference in 2015.

Osaka has in the past used her platform and considerable press attention to highlight issues of police violence and racial inequality.

American Christian Harrison was fined $3,000 by the ATP after refusing to take part in a mandatory on-court interview at the Delray Beach Open in January amid a dispute over mask-wearing.