NEW YORK — Naomi Osaka 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 to take a mental health break.
In an essay that appears in Time magazine’s Olympic preview issue, on sale Friday, Osaka — a four-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1-ranked player — wrote that she hopes “we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones,” and suggests they be allowed to sometimes skip media obligations without punishment.
“There can be moments for any of us where we are dealing with issues behind the scenes,” the 23-year-old Osaka said. “Each of us as humans is going through something on some level.”
She said before the French Open began that she would not speak to the press during that tournament, saying those interactions were sometimes uncomfortable and would create doubts for her on the court. After her first-round victory in Paris, Osaka was fined $15,000 for skipping her mandatory news conference and threatened by the four Grand Slam tournaments with the possibility of disqualification or suspension if she continued to avoid the media.
Osaka then pulled out of that tournament and hasn’t played since, also sitting out Wimbledon, which ends Sunday. She will return to competition at the Tokyo Olympics, which open July 23, and where she will represent her native Japan.