Four-time Gland Slam champion Naomi Osaka is back in Paris a year after withdrawing from the French Open to deal with her mental well-being and stepping away from tennis.
A year ago, the former world No. 1 declined to talk to the media after her first-round victory, citing "huge waves of anxiety" talking to the media, and eventually withdrew from the tournament. That sparked global support and criticism, which led to increasing awareness of mental health in sports.
Friday, she returned to Roland Garros, and took a key step by participating in a press conference before the two-week tournament gets underway.
"For the most part, I think I'm OK," she said, although she acknowledged that she hasn't erased the mental images of heckling fans at Indian Wells earlier this year that brought her to tears. "Of course, I'm still thinking about it, and I'm kind of also prepping just in case I go on the court and a fan says something like in Indian Wells."
Osaka last week was identified by Sportico as the highest earning woman athlete in the world ($53.2 million annually, estimated from June 2021 to May 2022). She has shared on Instagram that she has suffered bouts of depression since her U.S. Open victory in 2018.
The 24-year-old resident of Boca Raton, Fla., said she feels a different role in talking to the media, that she feels the freedom to try to relax and even be funny: "I feel like the thing that's changed, me trying to figure out the crowd," she said. "I feel like I'm a stand-up comedian, and I'm trying to figure out what's okay and what's not okay."
After bowing out in Paris, she also sat out Wimbledon and took another mental health break following an early exit from the U.S. Open. In January she returned to Grand Slam action, defending her Australian Open title, where she lost in the third round.
Ironically, in her first-round match Sunday at Roland Garros, the unseeded Osaka will face No. 27 seed Amanda Anisimova of the United States -- the player who beat her at the Australian Open in Melbourne.
In her eight tournament appearances since last June, she has reached one final -- falling to Iga Swiatec of Poland in Miami on April 3.
--Field Level Media