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Serena Williams Showed Support To Naomi Osaka After She Was Criticized For Not Doing Press At The French Open

"I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it's like. I've been in those positions."

Posted on June 1, 2021, at 8:23 a.m. ET

Serena Williams gave her support to Naomi Osaka after the Japanese tennis star withdrew from the French Open following days of conversation about the mental health of athletes.

Daniel Pockett / Getty Images

In a statement last week, Osaka announced to the world that she wouldn't be taking part in mandatory press conferences throughout the French Grand Slam, explaining that the process of being asked relentless, insensitive questions could be detrimental to her mental health.

"I've 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," the four-time Grand Slam champion wrote. "We're often sat there and asked questions that we've been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I'm just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me."

After making clear that her decision wasn't personal to both the French Open or the journalists she'd formed good relationships with, Osaka finished: "I hope the considerable amount that I get fined for this will go towards a mental health charity."

Osaka was then fined $15,000 for following through with her word and skipping a postmatch press conference after her first-round win.

After the announcement, and in the lead-up to her first match of the tournament, an apparently emotional Osaka was pictured being comforted by her coach, further highlighting the strain she was under.

Tim Clayton - Corbis via Getty Images

However, things then took a dramatic turn when, rather than open a dialogue with Osaka to come to a solution, all four Grand Slams joined together and put out a statement that said she was at risk of being defaulted from the tournament, as well as future tournaments, for not fulfilling her duties.

TPN / Getty Images

The statement read: "We have advised Naomi Osaka that should she continue to ignore her media obligations during the tournament, she would be exposing herself to possible further Code of Conduct infringement consequences."

It went on to add: "As might be expected, repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament...and the trigger of a major offence investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions."

With the news bursting out of the tennis world and attracting attention from every side, Osaka eventually made the decision to withdraw from the French Open on Monday.

"I think now the best 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," she said in a statement. "I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer."

"The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that," the 23-year-old went on. "Anyone that knows me knows I'm introverted, and anyone that has seen me at tournaments will notice that I'm often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety."

"I wrote privately to the tournament apologizing and saying that I would be more than happy to speak with them after the tournament as the Slams are intense," the statement finished. "I'm gonna take time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans."

After winning her own first-round match, Serena Williams — herself no stranger to uncomfortable press conferences and intrusive questions — was asked for her reaction to the news.

Tim Clayton - Corbis via Getty Images

"The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi," the 23-time Grand Slam champion said. "I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it's like. I've been in those positions."

TPN / Getty Images

"We have different personalities, and people are different," she continued. "Not everyone is the same. I'm thick. Other people are thin. You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to, in the best way she thinks she can, and that's the only thing I can say. I think she's doing the best that she can."

And when asked in further questions if she thought enough was done by Grand Slams and the Women's Tennis Association in regard to a player's mental health, Williams added that you have to "step forward" to explain what you need help with.

Aurelien Meunier / Getty Images

"I think you really have to step forward and make an effort, just as in anything. You have to be able to make an effort and say, 'I need help with A, B, C, and D,' and talk to someone," the 39-year-old said. "I think that's so important to have a sounding board, whether that's someone at the WTA or whether it's someone in your life. Maybe it's someone that you just talk to on a weekly basis."

"I've been in that position, too," Williams went on. "I've definitely had opportunities to talk to people, kind of get things off my chest that I can't necessarily talk to anyone in my family or anyone that I know."

She finished: "For me it's important to have awareness and make that step."

This all comes after Williams left a press conference in tears earlier this year following persistent questions about her potential retirement from the sport after losing in the semifinals of the Australian Open.

Serena crying 💔after the media keeps asking her about retirement

Twitter: @4TheCulture____

In what could be argued as yet more proof of Osaka's point about the nature of press conferences, Williams was asked about her exit from the tournament and if her reaction on court — placing her hand over her heart — was a farewell.

"I don't know – if I ever say farewell, I wouldn't tell anyone," she said. Moments later, a visibly emotional Williams fought back tears before putting an end to the questions, simply saying: "I'm done."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.

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