Naomi Osaka offered up her first public comments since withdrawing from the French Open in a first-person essay for Time’s Olympics preview issue.
The four-time Grand Slam champion revealed that many reached out to offer their support after her withdrawal in May, including former First Lady Michelle Obama, Michael Phelps and Novak Djokovic.
In the essay, the tennis phenom details her hope that tournament organizers can make small changes to improve the situation for tennis players. Among Osaka’s suggestions are that players be allowed a limited number of “sick days” per year, when they are excused from press commitments without having to disclose their reasoning or risk punishment.
“In any other line of work, you would be forgiven for taking a personal day here and there, so long as it’s not habitual,” Osaka wrote. “In my case, I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms — frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me.
“I do not want to have to engage in a scrutiny of my personal medical history ever again.”
Osaka said she respects the press but does not appreciate the layout of press conferences, adding that the format is “out of date and in great need of a refresh.”
“The intention was never to inspire revolt,” she wrote, pointing out that no one in tennis has missed a press conference since her withdrawal from the French Open. “But rather to look critically at our workplace and ask if we can do better.”
Osaka added that she is looking forward to competing at the Olympics, which begin July 23. Osaka will be representing her native Japan.
“It has become apparent to me that literally everyone either suffers from issues related to their mental health or knows someone who does,” Osaka wrote, adding later: “I do hope that people can relate and understand it’s OK to not be OK, and it’s OK to talk about it.
“Michael Phelps told me that by speaking up I may have saved a life. If that’s true, then it was all worth it.”