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 played her first match on Sunday, defeating Romanian Patricia Maria Tig, ranked 63rd in the world.
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 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.’
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.
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.’