Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam winner, withdrew from the tournament on Monday, revealing that she’s dealt with long bouts of depression since 2018 as well as “huge waves of anxiety” that can be triggered by speaking to the press.
A day earlier, the 23-year-old was fined £10,000 for skipping a mandatory post-match press conference after her first-round victory, and all four Grand Slam tournaments threatened to disqualify or suspend her if she missed more.
Osaka had announced prior to the competition that she would not speak to the press in order to protect her mental health. That decision has ignited a debate about the professional sports world’s approach to mental health and athlete well-being in the face of intense pressure and scrutiny.
During a press conference after her first-round loss to Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova, Williams shared her own strategy for coping with the press throughout her career.
“For me personally, how I cope, how I deal with it, was that I know every single person asking me a question can’t play as well as I can and never will,” the 40-year-old said. “So no matter what you say, or what you write, you’ll never light a candle to me.”
“That’s how I deal with it. But each person deals with it differently,” she added.
A day earlier, her sister, Serena Williams, 39, also discussed the issue. She said that she had also struggled with the post-match media spotlight, but it ultimately made her stronger
“I feel for Naomi,” she said. “Not everyone is the same. I’m thick. Other people are thin. Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently.”
Many other athletes and public figures have also rallied to support Osaka following her withdrawal. The Grand Slam tournaments subsequently released a statement offering Osaka support and pledging to address athletes’ concerns about mental health.
Tennis fans loved Venus Williams’ energy. See some of the reactions to her response below.
Any idea how I’d make this my ringtone?
— Todd Breasseale (@TBreassealeDHS) June 1, 2021
This shit made me say “HOT DAMN” and I don’t think I ever said that in my life and I’m old as hell and this is fuckin amazing https://t.co/zm54lwKkzd
— America is musty (@DragonflyJonez) June 1, 2021
Bringing this one back to the timeline.
A very young Venus Williams being grilled by an interviewer.
Richard Williams was having none of it… https://t.co/61DXc1GZiL
— Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) June 1, 2021
Venus Williams rips every critic over the past FOUR decades to shreds in 15 seconds. Put this in The Louvre! pic.twitter.com/nlZMvHMqfb
— Madam Vice President Harris is GOAT! (@flywithkamala) June 1, 2021