Williams sent love and wished Naomi well during a post-match press conference on Monday, June 1. Osaka shocked the tennis world when she withdrew from the French Open to avoid her media duties. The 23-year-old star announced that she was pulling out of the tournament after being fined $15K for ditching the mandatory press conference.
Her withdrawal sent the sports world into a tizzy as fans and athletes supported/condemned Osaka’s actions. However, Naomi received support from the most dominant athlete in history.
Serena was asked how she felt about the Naomi situation that has taken over the tournament’s narrative during a post-match conference.
“The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi,” the 23-time grand slam champion said via CNN. “I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it’s like. Like I said, I’ve been in those positions.”
Naomi received support from other athletes on social media, including Usain Bolt, Kyrie Irving, and Venus Williams, but other tournament players discussed how it is part of the gig.
“Press and players and the tournaments comes hand-in-hand,” Victoria Azarenka said. “I think it’s very important in developing our sport, in promoting our sport.”
Sofia Kenin, the 5th ranked player in the world, wasn’t that sympathetic either. “This is what you signed up for,” she said. “This is sport. There’s expectations from the outside, sponsors and everyone. You just have to somehow manage it.”
Naomi announced her decision to pull out of the French Open via social media.
“Hey everyone, this isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago. I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris. I ever wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer. More importantly I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly. The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that. Anyone that knows me knows I’m introverted, and anyone that has seen me at the tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety. Though the tennis press has always been kind to me (and I wanna apologize especially to all the cool journalists who I may have hurt), I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media. I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answer I can. So here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercised self-care and skip the press conferences. I announced it preemptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that. I wrote privately to the tournament apologizing and saying that I would be more than happy to speak with them after the tournament and the Slams are intense. I’m gonna take some time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans. Anyways hope you are all doing well and staying safe, love you guys I’ll see you when I see you.”