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French Open: Grand slam chiefs commend Osaka after Roland Garros withdrawal

By Daniel Lewis
Naomi Osaka

Paris, June 2: The leaders of tennis' four grand slam events have commended Naomi Osaka for opening up about her mental health problems and have vowed to put players' wellbeing first.

Osaka pulled out of the French Open on Monday, a day after organisers fined the four-time grand slam winner and threatened her with more severe sanctions for refusing to attend mandatory media conferences.

The world number two said in a statement posted on social media that she has had "long bouts of depression" since winning the US Open in 2018 and never intended for her stance to become a distraction.

Osaka also indicated that she was willing to work closely with tour officials "to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans."

Amid criticism for the way in which they have handled the matter, those in charge of the French Open, Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open have now softened their stance.

A joint statement on Tuesday from French tennis federation president Gilles Moretton, All England Club chairman Ian Hewitt, U.S. Tennis Association president Mike McNulty and Tennis Australia president Jayne Hrdlicka read: "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. 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 empathise with the unique pressures tennis players may face.

"While players' wellbeing has always been a priority to the Grand Slams, our intention, together with the WTA, the ATP and the ITF, is to advance mental health and wellbeing through further actions.

"Together as a community we will continue to improve the player experience at our tournaments, including as it relates to media.

"Change should come through the lens of maintaining a fair playing field, regardless of ranking or status. Sport requires rules and regulations to ensure that no player has an unfair advantage over another.

"We intend to work alongside the players, the tours, the media and the broader tennis community to create meaningful improvements. As Grand Slams, we aim to create the stage for the players to achieve the highest accolades in our sport."

Osaka's shock withdrawal generated an outpouring of support across the tennis world and beyond, with the likes of Serena Williams, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova backing the 23-year-old's stance.

Gael Monfils also chipped in on Tuesday, the top-ranked French men's player pointing out that it is difficult to judge Osaka's situation from the outside.

"We need Naomi. We need her definitely to be 100 per cent," he said following his win over Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

"We need her back on the court, back on the press conference, and back happy. You know, that's what we need.

"What she's dealing with is tough for me to even judge, because I think she has massive pressure from many things.

"I think she's quite young. She's handling it quite well. Sometimes we want maybe too much from her, and then how she says maybe she can't manage it that well, so sometimes for sure she's going to make some mistakes.

"But I give her always the chance because she's a champion, she's quite young, she has a huge influence. I think she needs to take some time for herself to work on herself, feel better."

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Story first published: Wednesday, June 2, 2021, 3:30 [IST]
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