“I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can go back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris,” Osaka said in a statement on social media.
“First and foremost, we are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka,” Gilles Moretton, president of the French Tennis Federation, said in a statement. “The outcome of Naomi withdrawing from Roland-Garros is unfortunate. We wish her the best and quickest possible recovery, and we look forward to having Naomi at our Tournament next year.”
The French Open and its clay surface have always been a hurdle for Osaka, who has never been alone in that dynamic. In four appearances at Roland Garros, she has reached the third round three times and the first round once. That’s in drastic contrast to the two hard-court Grand Slam tournaments; she has won two each of the U.S. Open and Australian Open while still only 23.
In the run-up to this French Open, she had fielded news conference questions about her past difficulties as well as doubts expressed by a family member, according to an online post from her sister, Mari, a retired tour player. All of it led Naomi Osaka to announce last week that she would forgo news conferences in Paris because of “mental health,” as she termed it.
When she went through with that after her first-round match, she was fined $15,000, with further penalty looming as she advanced.
This comes from a player who has spoken often of trying to temper her unrealistic expectations for herself. After she won the 2018 U.S. Open at 20 and the 2019 Australian Open at 21, she began a dip to results that might seem lofty for others but not for herself. She stalled in the third round of the 2019 French, the first round of the 2019 Wimbledon, the fourth round of the 2019 U.S. Open and the third round of the 2020 Australian Open.
Then came the pandemic, during which she won the 2020 U.S. Open and the 2021 Australian Open while not traveling to the 2020 French Open, which was delayed to the fall, after an injury. Her wins in New York and Melbourne deepened a statistic most unusual: In 19 career Grand Slams, she has won the tournament or lost by the fourth round, meaning she is 12-0 lifetime in quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.
Osaka’s interview sessions tend to brim with fresh and thoughtful insights with occasional laughter at herself, all distributed with charm and geniality in front of appreciative reporters. Fans of her general graciousness might cite the time she routed then-15-year-old Coco Gauff at the U.S. Open, then insisted Gauff join her for the post-match interview session that takes place on the court, so the crowd could laud Gauff as well. And Osaka followed Sunday’s first-round win in Paris with an on-court interview with one broadcaster, which by custom precedes the interview session indoors in a designated room with about 100 chairs typically.
Yet Osaka often told of inner anxiety either present or past, none of which would have been glaring to anyone watching her in a stadium or sitting in the designated interview rooms of the Grand Slams. “I mean, honestly, I don’t sleep during Grand Slams,” she said after reaching the final of the 2020 U.S. Open. “I guess I’m going to try to sleep [before the next match]. It’s probably going to look like me lying in my bed with my eyes open, trying to will myself just to go to sleep.”
At this year’s Australian Open, after she beat her idol, Serena Williams, in the semifinals, she said: “I used to weigh my entire existence on whether I won or lost a tennis match. That’s just not how I feel anymore.” And when someone reminded her she had not lost a Grand Slam match in a year, she said: “I do remember what it feels like to lose a match, very vividly. I remember it here [at the 2020 Australian Open], and I remember how I was feeling and what my mind-set was. Honestly, it still makes me sad to this day, so yeah, it’s quite a lingering memory.”
After winning the title over onrushing American Jennifer Brady, she said: “I think what I have learned on and off the court is it’s okay to not be sure about yourself. For me, I feel like I’ve always forced myself to, like, be ‘strong’ or whatever. I think if you’re not feeling okay, it’s okay to not feel okay.”