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Grand Slam leaders respond to Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal

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The leaders of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments responded this week to Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open.

The four-time major champion and No. 2-ranked player in the world was fined $15,000 after skipping the press conference on Sunday following her first-round victory at Roland-Garros. The next day, Osaka pulled out of the tournament entirely. In a social media post explaining her decision, Osaka said she has “suffered long bouts of depression” and experiences “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking to the media.

Osaka included that she would be “more than happy” to speak with the tournament after the event was over and welcomed the opportunity to work with the Tour on media obligations and protocols.

The leaders of the Grand Slam tournaments, who threatened possible disqualification or suspension for Osaka on Sunday if she continued to skip news conferences, vowed to address players’ concerns about mental health in a joint statement Tuesday.

“On behalf of the Grand Slams, we wish to offer Naomi Osaka our support and assistance in any way possible as she takes time away from the court. She is an exceptional athlete and we look forward to her return as soon as she deems appropriate,” the statement read. “Mental health is a very challenging issue, which deserves our utmost attention. It is both complex and personal, as what affects one individual does not necessarily affect another. We commend Naomi for sharing in her own words the pressures and anxieties she is feeling and we empathize with the unique pressures tennis players may face.”

The issue has opened up a widespread debate about how to balance media obligations and athletes’ mental health. Many athletes have spoken out in support of Osaka, including Serena Williams.

Venus Williams addressed the issue in a press conference Tuesday, saying that each person handles media attention and duties differently.

“For me, personally, how I deal with it was that I know every single person asking me a question can’t play as well as I can and never will, so no matter what you say or what you write, you’ll never light a candle to me,” Williams said. “So that’s how I deal with it. But each person deals with it differently.”

Gael Monfils, world No. 15, said in his post-match press conference Tuesday that he could relate to Osaka’s concerns but also that the sport of tennis needs Osaka.

“We need Naomi. We need her definitely to be 100 percent,” Monfils said. “We need her back on the court, back (at) the press conference — and back happy.”