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Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka described her withdraw from the French Open in an op-ed for Time Magazine. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Naomi Osaka explained for the first time in detail why she opted to skip press conferences at the French Open and ultimately withdraw from the tournament in an op-ed for Time’s Olympic preview out on Thursday. 

The four-time Grand Slam winner assured that hit wasn’t about the press reporters themselves, but the press conference structure that she takes issue and offered mental health days as an option in the future. 

“In my opinion (and I want to say that this is just my opinion and not that of every tennis player on tour),” Osaka wrote for Time, “the press-conference format itself is out of date and in great need of a refresh. I believe that we can make it better, more interesting and more enjoyable for each side. Less subject vs. object; more peer to peer.”

Osaka: Don’t wish French Open situation on anyone

Osaka, 23, announced days ahead of the French Open in May that she would not speak with reporters during the tournament despite it being required. She said it was to protect her mental health. The French Open organizers began fining her and noted she could face expulsion. 

Bigger events require media availability for publicity to drive ticket sales, TV ratings and sponsorships, which all comes back around to higher pay days for the athletes themselves. 

The then-No. 1 ranked tennis star ultimately pulled out of the tournament, citing her mental health, and did not play in Wimbledon. She wrote in her op-ed that she “felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms.” 

“I do not wish that on anyone and hope that we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones,” she wrote.

Osaka offers ‘sick days’ as option for tennis stars

She suggested a certain number of “sick days” athletes can use to be excused from press commitments without having to disclose the why in order to “bring sport in line with the rest of society.” 

“Perhaps we should give athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions,” she wrote.

“In any other line of work, you would be forgiven for taking a personal day here and there, so long as it’s not habitual. You wouldn’t have to divulge your most personal symptoms to your employer; there would likely be HR measures protecting at least some level of privacy.”

Osaka wrote that she received support, encouragement and kind words from, among others, Michelle Obama, Michael Phelps, Steph Curry, Novak Djokovic and Megan Markle. Osaka has been open about mental health in the past and wrote in Time that she feels “uncomfortable being spokesperson or face of athlete mental health” but hopes people can relate and understand that it’s “OK not to be OK, and it’s OK to talk about it.” 

The tennis sensation will return to the court for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where she’ll compete for Japan. On Tuesday, Netflix announced a three-part documentary series following Osaka over her rise to international stardom. It will debut on July 16. 

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