Naomi Osaka lifts lid on early mental health struggles amid recent French Open withdrawal

Naomi Osaka: Pundits discuss French Open withdrawal

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Naomi Osaka has opened up about being labelled ‘the quiet one’ following her decision to pull out of the French Open and Wimbledon to protect her mental health. The world No 3 announced she would not be attending press conferences at the clay-court Grand Slam and later withdrew from both tournaments when she was threatened with suspension. Now, Osaka has admitted she “never” wanted media training as she tries to embrace her introverted nature.

Osaka made headlines when she announced her decision to skip press conferences at Roland Garros this year to protect her mental wellbeing, admitting she was happy to pay fines as punishment.

The four-time Major champion faced backlash following her announcement, with the Grand Slam board threatening her with suspension if she continued to miss them.

Osaka then withdrew from the tournament after her first round win, subsequently pulling out of Wimbledon, and returned at the Tokyo Olympics, where press conferences are not mandatory.

The ‘face’ of the games suffered a shock early exit in the third round, and only returned to official WTA Tour competition last week in Cincinnati, where she beat Coco Gauff before falling to wild card and eventual runner-up Jil Teichmann.

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The former world No 1 has now spoken out on embracing her introverted personality after being dubbed shy throughout her career.

“Growing up being [labeled] ‘the quiet one’ puts you in a box and, even worse, makes you stand out when all you want is to blend in,” she told Women’s Health.

“But now I try to embrace and own it.”

Having opened up the conversation not only on mental health in sport but also on the relevance of the traditional press conference structure in tennis, Osaka admits she didn’t want media training despite it often being heralded as a resolution to helping players face the press.

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She continued: “I never wanted media training because I didn’t want to change my personality to offer a canned response that didn’t feel like me.

“Yes, some people may find my personality different, just as they do my mixed-race background, but I find it to be the thing that makes me uniquely myself.”

Osaka, who has lived in America since she was three and is half-Japanese and half-Haitian, represents her country of birth, Japan.

After being praised by the likes of Simone Biles for speaking up about athletes’ mental health, the defending US Open champion says she just wanted to help anyone struggling.

“I hope I was able to help some people and for them to see that even athletes are still humans like the rest of us. And we are all dealing with something in our lives,” she said.

The world No 3 also revealed how she handles the pressure, making sure she listens to music as she arrives on court for a match.

She said: “[It] helps dull my social anxiety. Music calms me, it silences the noise that won’t help my game. For me, music is inspiring and uplifting.”

As for who she listens to, Osaka named Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Saweetie as some of her favorite pre-match artists.

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