Serena Williams has weighed in on Naomi Osaka’s refusal to talk to the press at the ongoing French Open and her subsequent withdrawal from the competition. The 39-year-old and former world number one said she totally understands where the Japanese-Haitian star is coming from with regards to her stance and she wishes she could give Osaka a hug.
Osaka was previously fined $15,000 by the competition’s organizers after she did not appear at a press conference following her first-round victory against Patricia Maria Tig on Sunday. Osaka, who had initially signaled her intention to avoid the press during the French Open because of mental health reasons, subsequently announced her withdrawal from the competition on Monday. The 23-year-old had been warned of disqualification from the tournament and also the possibility of being barred from playing in other competitions if she did not backtrack from her decision.
Speaking to the press after her first-round win against Irina-Camelia Begu on Monday, Williams said she only got to know about Osaka’s withdrawal from the competition after her match, Skysports reported. “Honestly I just found out before I walked into the press conference, so that’s the extent of it right now for me,” she said.
Asked about what she thought of Osaka’s withdrawal and the reasons behind it, Williams expressed support for the world number two. Osaka said she has had “bouts of depression” and also explained attending press conferences would take a toll on her mental health.
“The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi. I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it’s like. I’ve been in those positions,” Williams said.
“We have different personalities, and people are different. Not everyone is the same. I’m thick. Other people are thin. You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to, in the best way she thinks she can.”
Williams also said it’s indispensable for players to have someone they can open up to during those kind of times.
“I feel like there is a lot of articles that they put out. I think you really have to step forward and make an effort, just as in anything. You have to be able to make an effort and say, I need help with A, B, C, and D, and talk to someone,” Williams added, according to Skysports.
“I think that’s so important to have a sounding board, whether it’s someone at the WTA or whether it’s someone in your life. Maybe it’s someone that you just talk to on a weekly basis.
“I’ve been in that position, too. I’ve definitely had opportunities to talk to people, kind of get things off my chest that I can’t necessarily talk to anyone in my family or anyone that I know.”
Meanwhile, a host of current and former athletes as well as other celebrities have sent support and words of encouragement to Osaka. Take a look at them below:
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!
— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) May 31, 2021
Even though it shouldn’t have to be like this, I’m proud of you for putting your foot down. Your mental health matters and should always come first. https://t.co/SKJlfTJuGm
— Laurie Hernandez (@LaurieHernandez) June 1, 2021
stay strong ❤️ I admire your vulnerability
— Coco Gauff (@CocoGauff) May 31, 2021
— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) May 31, 2021
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 31, 2021
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 @naomiosaka Your mental health is just as important as your physical health ❤️🙏🏾
— Lisa Leslie (@LisaLeslie) May 31, 2021