Naomi Osaka: Pundits discuss French Open withdrawal
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Naomi Osaka has been praised by Simone Biles for opening up the conversation surrounding mental health in sport. The seven-time Olympic medallist revealed that the Japanese tennis star reached out to her when she pulled out of multiple events at the recent Tokyo games after experiencing the ‘twisties’. The world No 2 herself has been outspoken about her mental health, choosing not to praticipate in press conferences to protect her mental wellbeing at Roland Garros before pulling out of the event and Wimbledon.
Biles withdrew from multiple Olympic gymnastic events including the team competition final and all-around after suffering with a case of the “twisties”, a state of disassociation between the mind and body which stops athletes from being able to successfully perform, potentially leading to a serious injury.
The 24-year-old was already under a heavy spotlight in Tokyo before her withdrawals, as was the face of the games – Osaka.
The Olympics marked the four-time Grand Slam champion’s first tournament since withdrawing from Roland Garros and Wimbledon to protect her mental wellbeing, and Osaka was immediately thrust into the spotlight as the home favourite, lighting the cauldron.
The world No 2 announced she would not be participating in press conferences at the clay-court Grand Slam because they were tough on her mental health, and was happy to receive fines as punishment.
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The Grand Slams later released a statement saying Osaka could be suspended from future events for failing to turn up to press, prompting the 23-year-old to withdraw after her first-round win.
She subsequently pulled out of Wimbledon and made her return to tennis at the Olympics, suffering a disappointing early exit to Marketa Vondrousova in the third round.
Biles has now revealed that the former world No 1 tennis player reached out to her when she faced her own mental battles during the Tokyo games.
Speaking to Entertainment Today, the gymnast said: “She [Osaka] was actually really sweet and she reached out.
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“I was so overwhelmed, so I didn’t get the chance to respond, but I had so many people reach out and she was just so sweet.”
The defending US Open champion has been praised by fellow athletes for opening up the conversation on mental health in sport, and Biles shared her own appreciation for Osaka.
“She is speaking up about mental health, and I think it is really important that athletes put their mental health first,” she said.
“Because, at the end of the day, that is what is going to determine how well we go out there and compete in whatever sport that is.”
The most-decorated American gymnast added: “I think now that it is a leading topic of conversation, it is really helpful, because at the end of the day, we are athletes and it is our craft, but we are human too.”
Osaka recently returned to the WTA Tour in Cincinnati, winning her first match against Coco Gauff before falling in three sets to wildcard Jil Teichmann.
She teared up in her first official tour-level press conference since Roland Garros after being asked a question about her high media profile.
The world No 2 left the room to compose herself before returning and giving an articulate answer, though her agent Stuart Duguid later criticised the reporter for their comments.
“The bully at the Cincinnati Enquirer is the epitome of why player/media relations are so fraught right now. Everyone on that Zoom will agree that his tone was all wrong and his sole purpose was to intimidate. Really appalling behavior,” he said.
“And this insinuation that Naomi owes her off-court success to the media is a myth – don’t be so self-indulgent.”
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