Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka arrived back home in Los Angeles on Tuesday, the day after spectacularly withdrawing from the French Open amid a row over her decision not to do interviews during the tournament, to protect her mental health.
Osaka, the highest-paid female athlete in the world, flew in from Paris shortly after revealing her three-year struggle with depression.
‘I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris,’ Osaka said in an Instagram post on Monday, in which she said she struggled with depression and anxiety.
She had never before spoken in public about her depression, which she said began after her 2018 victory over her childhood hero Serena Williams at the United States Open, in front of a crowd that strongly supported her opponent.
Osaka, who won the Australian Open in February and is ranked second in the world, played her first match on Sunday, defeating Romanian Patricia Maria Tig, ranked 63rd.
Naomi Osaka, 23, is seen on Tuesday afternoon arriving home to her Beverly Hills residence, the day after she shocked the sporting world by announcing she was withdrawing from the French Open
Osaka was seen in a Mambacita tracksuit and her Beats by Dre headphones – provided by one of her sponsors
The Japanese athlete was seen getting out of a black SUV on Tuesday afternoon in Los Angeles, having arrived home from Paris. Osaka played on Sunday, easily beating Patricia Maria Tig to advance to the second round. She withdrew from the tournament the following day
A man is seen delivering balloons in the shape of various letters to Osaka’s home. The letters appeared to include N, I, and C – perhaps part of a larger phrase that was being spelt out for the sporting superstar
The world number two was in action in Paris on Sunday, and appeared to have resolved to pay the $15,000 fine and continue playing. By Monday, however, she had dropped out of the tournament
Osaka was seen on Wednesday afternoon returning to her $6.9 million Beverly Hills home, that she bought in August 2019 from singer Nick Jonas.
The 4,000-square-foot five bedroom home, built in 1965, has spectacular views across Los Angeles from a massive wooden deck, cantilevered over the valley below, with an infinity pool.
The 23-year-old was wearing a $332 tie-dye tracksuit from the Mambacita range launched on May 1 by Vanessa Bryant, widow of the late NBA star Kobe Bryant.
Osaka was a huge admirer of Bryant, and met him in 2019 after her agent put them in touch.
She described him as a mentor and someone who taught her how to deal with the trials of professional sport.
‘He taught me that even though it’s tough in the moment, if you keep going, you’ll get the result,’ Osaka told Vogue magazine.
‘Or you might not get the result but you’ll get an opportunity to get the result.’
Osaka appeared to have come straight home off the flight on Tuesday, and was still wearing her face mask and comfortable travel clothes
The sporting superstar is now planning on taking some time off from the sport. Organizers of Wimbledon and the US Open will be hoping that Osaka – one of the biggest stars of the sport – will decide to return in time for their tournaments later this summer
Osaka, who was born in the Japanese city that bears her name, has said that she intends to represent Japan at the Tokyo Olympics this summer. However, she has also said she is unsure if the games will go ahead, due to COVID in her home country
Osaka wore Nike sneakers and a Nike baseball cap. Nike is one of her many sponsors, which jointly brought in $50 million of her $55.2 million earnings last year
Osaka’s kit bag appeared to be stuffed with sneakers and tennis racquets. Her tracksuit was a tribute to LA Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, who helped her with her anxiety and mental health issues after her agent connected them
Osaka is seen on Sunday, during her first-round match against Patricia Maria Tig, from Romania
The Japanese sporting superstar wore white Beats by Dre headphones, and carried her kit in a Louis Vuitton holdall.
Beats are among her multiple sponsors, helping her to rake in $55.2 million in the past 12 months. Only $5.2 million came from tennis winnings, while the rest came from endorsement deals with the likes of Nike, Beats by Dre, Mastercard and Nissin.
Osaka divides her time between LA and Florida, where she bases herself in Boca Raton.
Born to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father, she moved to New York in the U.S. when she was three years old and begun her professional career in tennis in 2013.
A four-time Grand Slam winner, her decision to pull out of the French Open rocked the sport, and divided her fellow tennis players and fans alike.
The tournament began on Sunday. On Wednesday, as players were arriving in Paris for the start of the tournament, Osaka tweeted that she was not going to do any press conferences, saying they were unnecessarily stressful and done with ‘no regard for athletes’ mental health’.
Osaka was fined $15,000 for refusing to appear in front of the media, and a joint statement from all four Grand Slam organizers said she will face ‘more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions’ if she continues her boycott.
Osaka bought the house in Beverly Hills from Nick Jonas in August 2019. The five bedroom, 4,000-sq-foot property has an extensive terrace built into the hillside, with stunning views across Los Angeles
The house was built in 1965 and is set high above Los Angeles, with expansive views of the valley beneath
Osaka’s modern home is protected by extensive shrubbery around the sides, and a large wall in front
Balloons were seen flying at the house on Tuesday, presumably to welcome Osaka home. The tournament in Paris continues until June 13, and Osaka would have expected to have spent several more weeks in France – even though clay, on which the French Open is played, is not her strongest surface
The balloons had been brought to Osaka’s home earlier on Tuesday
Five days after her tweet, she announced she was withdrawing.
Rafael Nadal, trying to win his 14th Roland Garros title over the next fortnight, affirmed his ‘respect’ for Osaka and her decision, but said he felt press conferences were necessary to promote sports.
‘We as sports people, I mean, we need to be ready to accept the questions and to try to produce an answer, no?’ he said on Friday.
‘I understand her, but on the other hand, for me, without the press, without the people who normally travel, who are writing the news and achievements that we are having around the world, we probably will not be the athletes that we are today.
‘We wouldn’t have the recognition that we have around the world, and we will not be that popular, no?’
Ashleigh Barty, the women’s world number one, agreed that press conferences were essential.
‘We know what we sign up for as professional tennis players,’ the Australian said on Friday.
‘I can’t really comment on what Naomi is feeling or her decisions she makes.
‘At times press conferences are hard, of course, but it’s also not something that bothers me. I’ve never had problems answering questions or being completely honest with you guys. It’s not something that’s ever fazed me too much.’
Boris Becker, a three-time Wimbledon champion, said: ‘Without the media there isn’t any prize money, there isn’t any contracts.
‘And you don’t get half the cake. I hated the media personally. I didn’t like to speak to journalists but I had to do it.
‘She has cited that she is pulling out of the tournament altogether because she can’t cope with it. That raises much bigger questions for me because if she can’t cope with the media in Paris, she can’t cope with the media at Wimbledon, she can’t cope with the media at the US Open.
‘I almost feel like her career is in danger because of mental health issues and that we should take very seriously.’
Osaka’s sponsors, including Nike and Mastercard, have backed her decision.
Serena Williams, Osaka’s hero, said she wished she could ‘give her a hug’.
‘The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi,’ Williams said, after her first-round win over Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu.
‘I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it’s like. Like I said, I’ve been in those positions,’
‘Not everyone is the same. We have different personalities. I’m thick. Other people are thin. Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently.
‘You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to and the best way she thinks she can.
‘That’s the only thing I can say: I think she is doing the best she can.’
Some of Osaka’s critics by Tuesday had changed their mind.
Billie Jean King tweeted on Monday afternoon that Osaka should be given space and that it was incredibly brave of her to speak about her depression
Earlier: King’s statement on Monday night was of a very different tone to the one she offered over the weekend that highlighted the media’s role in the game
Greats like Billie Jean King – who earlier disagreed with Osaka’s decision – changed their tune to offer her sympathy. Chris Evert suggested changes to the media to protect young stars who can’t seem to handle tough questions.
Others like 18-time Grand-Slam winner Martina Navratilova – who told Osaka to ‘woman up’ last week – deleted tweets and replaced them with more sympathetic words.
King, 77, tweeted: ‘It’s incredibly brave that Naomi Osaka has revealed her truth about her struggle with depression. Right now, the important thing is that we give her the space and time she needs. We wish her well.’
Hours earlier, she’d posted a different statement that said in part: ‘I have always believed that as professional athletes we have a responsibility to make ourselves available to the media… the media still play an important role in telling our story.’
Evert went on Good Morning America Tuesday and said that while in her day she didn’t mind taking tough questions, young athletes these days don’t seem able to handle it.
Chris Evert – who won her first French Open at age 20, three years younger than Osaka is now – said that while the press is ‘crucial’ to the game, press conferences need to change to become ‘more comfortable for the players’
Evert won her first French Open in 1974 when she was 20 (shown) – three years younger than Osaka is now. She said on Tuesday that she didn’t mind taking questions about her performance, but didn’t like ever being asked about her personal life. Osaka said she didn’t want to face journalists because she thinks they ‘doubt’ her
She said the press is ‘crucial’ to the sport and has helped Osaka’s brand but that press conferences need to be updated to make it more comfortable for the stars.
She suggested putting checks on the media by restricting press conferences to 15 minutes, banning ‘tabloid’ press and bloggers whose questions aren’t to athletes’ liking and even adding a ‘moderator’ to ‘field questions.’
These athletes are teenagers and in their early 20s. They cant cope with what a 45 year old golfer can. The press needs to have compassion with what they ask
‘There are so many layers to this issue that it would take an hour to talk about.
‘Most importantly, I hope that Naomi is OK. It’s interesting because I really respect Naomi for being a spokesperson and she has been the darling of the media, that’s what makes this interesting.
‘The media have really helped her brand.
‘On the one side, I have so much sympathy for her but on the other side of the coin is that the press are very instrumental in the growth of the game It’s crucial to tennis, it brings stories to the fans, dissects matches.
‘These press conferences are a responsibility.
‘But at the same time, it’s time to take a look at the structure of these press conferences to make them more comfortable and healthier for the players, maybe limit them to 15 or20 minutes, maybe check the credentials of the press a little better, maybe monitor or a moderator in there to field the questions.
‘This is an individual sport, it can be brutal at times…these athletes are teenagers and in their early 20s. They cant cope with what a 45-year-old golfer can.
‘The press needs to have compassion with what they ask – it’s putting a lot of players off,’ she said.
Asked how she managed it when she was a teen star, she replied: ‘I was fine with talking about my losses, I felt like it went along with the territory. I would just answer the question – but when they ask about your personal life…some of them are tabloid, blogs.
‘Maybe they should check the credentials more,’ she said.