Naomi Osaka Pulls Out Of French Open To Focus On Her Mental Health

·10-min read
Photo credit: Tim Clayton - Corbis - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tim Clayton - Corbis - Getty Images

Naomi Osaka’s name is almost as synonymous now with tennis as it is with fashion and activism.

At 23 years old, the Japanese-born, US-raised tennis star is a third-time Grand Slam winner, has been ranked number one in the world by the Women's Tennis Association and the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles matches.

Since defeating Serena Williams in a highly contentious US Open final in 2018, Osaka has gone on to show the world she’s a champion both on and off the court, signing numerous fashion partnerships with luxury brands like Tag Heuer and becoming one of tennis’ most vocal supporters for racial justice.

In August 2021, the athlete will represent Japan in the Tokyo 2021 Olympics.

Photo credit: Quinn Rooney - Getty Images
Photo credit: Quinn Rooney - Getty Images

Ahead of her debut Olympics appearance, here’s everything you need to know about Naomi Osaka:

What has happened with Naomi Osaka at the French Open?

As the star geared up to partake in the 2021 French Open, Osaka published a statement on Twitter sharing that she will not be giving any interviews or speaking to the press during this tournament. Attributing her decision to protecting her mental health, the 23-year-old said she has 'often felt that people have no regards for athletes mental health and this rings very true whenever I [Osaka] see a press conference or partake in one.'

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Tennis players who boycott the press duties of the Roland Garros are fined, and days after Osaka made her decision public the competition confirmed they would be fining the athlete £15,000. This decision and the vast sum of money the French Open demanded courted a huge amount of publicity, undeniably overshadowing Osaka's performances including winning her first match against Patricia Maria Tig of Romania.

Then came Osaka's second statement on Monday where she confirmed that she would be dropping out of the tournament. Osaka is currently the second seed player in women's tennis, so the circumstances of her departure from one of tennis' biggest competitions has been viewed by many as a huge embarrassment for the sport.

Photo credit: Tim Clayton - Corbis - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tim Clayton - Corbis - Getty Images

In her statement, Osaka - who represents Japan - explained how she has gone through 'long bouts of depression' for the past three years, is often seen wearing headphones on the court because it helps to ease her social anxiety and that she gets 'huge waves of anxiety' before speaking to the media.

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'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,' Osaka explained.

Since making her decision, Osaka has been supported on social media from tennis legends like Serena Williams, who told a journalist she 'feels' for Osaka and wishes she could give her a hug and Billie-Jean King.

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How involved is Naomi Osaka in fashion?

Osaka has made a name for herself in the fashion industry in recent years.

In January 2021, luxury Swiss watch brand Tag Heuer announced that the tennis champion is their new brand ambassador ahead of her Olympic debut.

Photo credit: Tag Heuer
Photo credit: Tag Heuer

Speaking about working with Tag Heuer, the athlete notes: 'It’s a partnership and friendship that exemplifies our shared mindset and values. The brand’s trailblazing approach with their “Don’t crack under pressure” motto speaks to the way I live my life both on and off the court.’

Earlier this year, Osaka also joined Louis Vuitton as the brand’s new ambassador.

‘Aside from tennis, my most treasured passion is fashion; and there is no brand more iconic than Louis Vuitton,’ she has explained of the partnership. ‘It is such an honour to work with Nicolas [Ghesquière] — he’s a designer I admire so much and we share a mutual love of Japanese culture and style. To become global brand ambassador is truly a dream come true for me.’

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What tournaments has Naomi Osaka won?

Osaka was the first Asian woman to hold the number one position in singles, and the first Japanese player ever to win a Grand Slam event: the US Open in 2018. A year later, she won the Australian Open championship and scored her second US Open title win in 2020, this time representing Japan, aged just 22.

The athlete’s name hit headlines in September 2018 when she beat Serena Williams in a fierce women’s final. During the match, Williams received three code violations and argued with chair umpire Carlos Ramos on his calls, resulting in an emotional win for Osaka.

Photo credit: Julian Finney - Getty Images
Photo credit: Julian Finney - Getty Images

‘It feels really emotional,’ she said at the time following her win. ‘I feel happy and sad at the same time and I think this is the most I've ever cried.’ Williams was photographed hugging Osaka following her young athlete’s win and shared a text message she sent to Osaka days later.

‘I thought I was doing the right thing in sticking up for myself,’ she wrote in the message, provided to Harper’s Bazaar. ‘But I had no idea the media would pit us against each other. I would love the chance to live that moment over again. I am, was, and will always be happy for you and supportive of you. I would never, ever want the light to shine away from another female, specifically another black female athlete.’

In response, Osaka noted: ‘People can misunderstand anger for strength because they can't differentiate between the two.

‘No one has stood up for themselves the way you have, and you need to continue trailblazing.’

In February 2021, Osaka hit headlines again but this time it wasn't for her tennis prowess.

Photo credit: Daniel Pockett - Getty Images
Photo credit: Daniel Pockett - Getty Images
Photo credit: PAUL CROCK - Getty Images
Photo credit: PAUL CROCK - Getty Images

During a tennis match against Ons Jabeur at the Australian Open on Friday 12, Osaka found herself a new friend in the form of an orange and black butterfly.

The creature was photographed 'kissing' her cheek, her ankle and her fingertips at one point during the match, prompting the tennis player to place the butterfly safely on the side of the court for some prime viewing.

Photo credit: DAVID GRAY - Getty Images
Photo credit: DAVID GRAY - Getty Images

Is Naomi Osaka an activist?

Osaka isn’t an athlete afraid to speak her mind.

During her second US Open competition, the US-raised star advocated for the Black Lives Matter movement by wearing the names of seven Black Americans, who had been unjustly killed by the police, on her face masks.

Photo credit: Matthew Stockman - Getty Images
Photo credit: Matthew Stockman - Getty Images

‘It’s tough to be in a bubble for five weeks and keep yourself motivated and focused throughout,’ Osaka’s agent Stuart Duguid told Telegraph Sport of her motivations to wear the masks. ‘But as Billie Jean King says, no one listens to you unless you win. Naomi knew that, and it’s what kept her going.’

In December 2020, Osaka was selected by The Associated Press as the Female Athlete of the Year for her sporting prowess and activism.

Speaking about the effects of Covid-19, both economically and socially, Osaka noted, per the Japan Times: ‘And then watching the police injustices like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake (to name just a few) in the summer broke my heart.

Photo credit: Al Bello - Getty Images
Photo credit: Al Bello - Getty Images

‘I am proud of my U.S. Open victory, but more so that I got people talking about the real issues.’

Speaking about Osaka, tennis legend and equal rights campaigner Billy Jean King told AP: ‘She successfully completed the difficult task of taking excellence in sports performance and using that platform to succeed outside of sports on a much bigger stage.

‘She ignited a conversation on social justice, the results of which were bigger than tennis, larger than sports, and in doing so raised the bar for all those who want to leverage the gifts and talents we have to make a difference in our world.’

What nationality is Naomi Osaka?

Osaka was born in Osaka, Japan to a Japanese mother and a Haitian-born father in 1997. She later moved to the US she moved to the US when she was three years old.

Growing up, Osaka – who has dual citizenship - lived on Long Island before moving to Florida with her family.

Who is Naomi Osaka’s boyfriend?

Osaka is believed to be dating 23-year-old rapper YBM Cordae. Her beau was seen jumping out of his seat following her Grand Slam victory – her third - in September 2020, much to the delight of her fans.

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The couple seemingly went ‘official’ with their romance in December 2019 (by attending a Los Angeles Clippers game together) and have regularly featured on each other’s Instagram accounts.

The Maryland native (whose real name is Cordae Dunston) was named a member of the XXL Freshman Class of new rappers alongside DaBaby, Roddy Ricch and Megan Thee Stallion in 2019. The same year, he nabbed two Grammy nominations for his debut solo album The Lost Boy.

Why does Naomi Osaka represent Japan?

Despite having grown up in the US the majority of her life, when the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were finally contested in August of 2021, Osaka announced she would play for the host nation and her birth country.

Photo credit: Al Bello - Getty Images
Photo credit: Al Bello - Getty Images

In 2019, the athlete announced she would relinquish her US citizenship in order to represent Japan, telling Japanese broadcaster NHK, per the BBC’s translation: ‘It is a special feeling to aim for the Olympics as a representative of Japan.

‘I think that playing with the pride of the country will make me feel more emotional.’

Osaka began representing Japan in junior tournaments when she was just 10 years old, according to a Wall Street Journal profile. ‘We made the decision that Naomi would represent Japan at an early age,’ Osaka's parents told the publication. ‘She was born in Osaka and was brought up in a household of Japanese and Haitian culture.’

Who are Naomi Osaka’s parents?

The Grand Slam winner’s parents are Tamaki Osaka and Leonard Francois.

Francois is the one who encouraged his daughters Naomi and Mari to pursue tennis, using instructional books and DVDs at first.

‘I don’t remember liking to hit the ball. The main thing was that I wanted to beat my sister. For her, it wasn’t a competition. Every day I’d say, “I’m going to beat you tomorrow”,’ Osaka once told the New York Times.

Her parents also inspired her to play for Japan.

‘My dad thought that since I grew up around my mom and I have a lot of Japanese relatives… I don’t know… I don’t necessarily feel like I’m American. I wouldn’t know what that feels like,’ she told the NYT.

Instead of taking their father’s last name, Osaka and her sister use their mother’s Japanese name.

How much is Naomi Osaka worth?

In May 2020, Forbes reported that Osaka was the highest-paid female athlete in history.

According to the publication, the 23-year-old earned $37.4 million (£27.4 million) in the last 12 months from prize money and endorsements. Its reporter notes that amount was $1.4 million (approximately £1 million) more than Serena Williams made. Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova once held the record when she earned $29.7 million (£21.8 million) in 2015.

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