Leading players such as Andre Agassi, Venus Williams and Novak Djokovic have skipped news conferences after defeats and been fined. But this is the first instance of a top player making it clear in advance that she did not intend to speak with the news media during a Grand Slam tournament.
Osaka, who is based in the United States and represents Japan, is the world’s highest paid female athlete, with the bulk of her earnings coming from sponsorships. She has raised her profile not simply by winning major titles but by advocating social justice; she wore masks that honored Black victims of violence, including police violence, after matches at last year’s United States Open.
She has had, in general, a positive relationship with the news media. But in her announcement on social media ahead of the French Open, she said, “I have often felt that people have no regard for athletes mental health, and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one.”
Osaka, whose decision caught some members of her own support team by surprise, did not say whether she was experiencing a specific mental-health issue, but she made it clear in her Twitter and Instagram posts that she felt strongly about taking a stand. “If the organizations think that they can just keep saying, ‘do press or you’re gonna be fined’ and continue to ignore the mental health of the athletes that are the centerpiece of their cooperation then I just gotta laugh.”
The Grand Slam leadership emphasized the importance of players’ mental health on Sunday, saying it was “of the utmost importance.”
“We individually and collectively have significant resources dedicated to player well-being,” the statement said. “In order to continue to improve, however, we need engagement from the players to understand their perspective and find ways to improve their experiences.”
No leading player has yet expressed a desire publicly to follow Osaka’s lead by skipping news conferences. The biggest stars of the previous generation — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Djokovic and Serena Williams — have regularly answered questions, often in multiple languages, after each match.