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Naomi Osaka breaks her silence in new essay, saying her intention ‘was never to inspire revolt’

Naomi Osaka will compete for Japan when the Olympics begin later this month. (Mark Dadswell/AP)

Naomi Osaka spoke about her mental health, her relationship with sports media and her excitement to compete in the Tokyo Olympics in an essay written for Time magazine’s Olympic preview issue, which goes on sale Friday.

Osaka, the world’s No. 2-ranked women’s tennis player, hasn’t played since May, when she followed through on her promise to skip a mandatory post-match news conference at the French Open. She was subsequently fined $15,000, then withdrew from the tournament and Wimbledon, which continues through this week.

In her cover essay, Osaka reiterated her desire to skip the news conference to safeguard her mental health, although she had not anticipated the controversy that followed, with some accusing her of “diva behavior” and shirking her contractual responsibilities. She said she appreciated the encouragement she received from family and friends. “There is nothing more important than those relationships,” she wrote. She also thanked several more famous supporters who reached out, including Michelle Obama, Michael Phelps and Steph Curry.

“I do hope that people can relate and understand it’s O.K. to not be O.K., and it’s O.K. to talk about it,” she wrote. “There are people who can help, and there is usually light at the end of any tunnel.”

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Osaka blamed the dynamics of post-match news conferences in explaining her reason for dropping out of the French Open, saying, “We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.”

She cited her social anxiety, but her stance worried some who feared her evasion might inspire others to skip their media responsibilities. The four-time Grand Slam champion said the current news conference format is outdated and she hopes to see a structure that is “less subject vs. object; more peer to peer.”

“This was never about the press, but rather the traditional format of the press conference. I’ll say it again for those at the back: I love the press; I do not love all press conferences,” she said. “The intention was never to inspire revolt, but rather to look critically at our workplace and ask if we can do better.

“I communicated that I wanted to skip press conferences at Roland Garros to exercise self-care and preservation of my mental health. I stand by that. Athletes are humans. Tennis is our privileged profession, and of course there are commitments off the court that coincide. But I can’t imagine another profession where a consistent attendance record (I have missed one press conference in my seven years on tour) would be so harshly scrutinized.”

Osaka, who was born in Japan, will return to competition at the Tokyo Olympics, where she will represent her home country when the Games open July 23.

“After taking the past few weeks to recharge and spend time with my loved ones, I have had the time to reflect, but also to look forward,” she said. “I could not be more excited to play in Tokyo. An Olympic Games itself is special, but to have the opportunity to play in front of the Japanese fans is a dream come true.”