Just hours after reaching the semi-final of the Western & Southern Open, Naomi Osaka pulled out of the tournament following the shooting of Jacob Blake in the United States.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Osaka had defeated Anett Kontaveit, but she decided to take a stand against racial injustice after Blake, an unarmed black man, was shot in the back by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as he leaned into his car.
Blake survived and is recovering in hospital, but his lawyers said it would be a “miracle” for him to walk again.
The incident has sparked widespread protests against racism and Osaka became the first tennis player to withdraw from the Cincinnati event in protest against the shooting.
“As many of you are aware I was scheduled to play my semifinals match tomorrow. However, before I am an athlete, I am a black woman,” she wrote.
“And as a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis. I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction.
“Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach. I’m exhausted of having a new hashtag pop up every few days and I’m extremely tired of having this same conversation over and over again. When will it ever be enough?”
Naomi Osaka: French Open withdrawal statement in full
Naomi Osaka said she is withdrawing from the French Open following the bitter fallout from her decision to boycott all media activity.
“Hey everyone, this isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago. I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my wellbeing is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris.
“I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer. More importantly, I would never trivialize mental health or use the term lightly.
“The truth is I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that.
“Anyone that knows me knows I am introverted, and anyone that has seen me at tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety.
“Though the tennis press has always been kind to me (and I wanna apologize to all the cool journalists who I may have hurt), I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media.
“I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can.
“So here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences. I announced it preemptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that.
“I wrote privately to the tournament apologizing and saying that I would be more than happy to speak with them after the tournament as the Slams are intense.
“I’m gonna take some time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans.
“Anyways hope you are all doing well and staying safe, love you guys I’ll see you when I see you.”
Osaka Sponsors Support Actions
London (CNN Business)Nike (NKE) and other major sponsors have come out in support of tennis star Naomi Osaka following her decision to withdraw from the French Open.
The sports apparel giant — who signed a sponsorship deal with Osaka in 2019 — applauded the athlete in a statement on Monday for opening up about her struggle with depression.
“Our thoughts are with Naomi. We support her and recognize her courage in sharing her own mental health experience,” Nike said.
Osaka’s decision to pull out of the competition came after the tournament, also called Roland Garros, fined her $15,000 for not speaking to the media following her first round match on Sunday.
Citing mental health reasons, the four-time major champion announced on Twitter last Wednesday that she would not participate in any news conferences at the tournament. Announcing her subsequent decision to withdraw, she revealed that she has “suffered long bouts of depression” since winning her first Grand Slam title in 2018.
Roland-Garros said in a statement that Osaka had failed to honor her contractual media obligations and was fined under the tournament’s Code of Conduct. The statement added that Roland-Garros had “tried unsuccessfully to speak with her to check on her well-being” and that she was reminded that “rules should apply equally to all players.”
Other sponsors issued statements in support of Osaka, who was born in Japan and grew up in the United States.
“Naomi Osaka’s decision reminds us all how important it is to prioritize personal health and well-being,” Mastercard (MA) said in a statement. “We support her and admire her courage to address important issues, both on and off the court.”
Osaka became the first number one tennis player to join Mastercard’s roster of global ambassadors in 2019.
Nissin Foods, a Japanese company known for its instant noodles, also released a message of solidarity.
“We pray for Ms Naomi Osaka’s earliest recovery, and wish her continue success,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.