Naomi Osaka says she “could not be more excited” to compete for Japan at the Olympics, but that is not what people are talking about this week when she suggested professional tennis should institute personal-reason “sick days” for athletes ahead of her return from a mental health hiatus. She hasn’t played competitively since she withdrew from the French Open in May, citing anxiety and depression.
On Thursday, Osaka addressed her fans in an essay published in Time where the No. 2 player in the WTA rankings explained two lessons she learned during her break from the sport. The first lesson is: “you can’t please everyone.” She said she also learned “literally everyone either suffers from issues related to their mental health or knows someone who does.”
“I have numerous suggestions to offer the tennis hierarchy, but my No. 1 suggestion would be to allow a small number of ‘sick days’ per year where you are excused from your press commitments without having to disclose your personal reasons,” Osaka wrote.
“I believe this would bring sport in line with the rest of society.”
She said former first lady Michelle Obama, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and Novak Djokovic were among those who reached out to her amid her break. The 23-year-old announced her plans to compete in the Summer Games in June. She will not be required to speak at news conferences in Tokyo.
“After taking the past few weeks to recharge and spend time with my loved ones, I have had the time to reflect, but also to look forward,” Osaka wrote. “I could not be more excited to play in Tokyo.
“An Olympic Games itself is special, but to have the opportunity to play in front of the Japanese fans is a dream come true. I hope I can make them proud.”
She will further discuss her hiatus as part of a Naomi Osaka documentary series, which premiers July 16 on Netflix.
“I always have this pressure to maintain the squeaky image,” Osaka said in a trailer for the series, released Wednesday. “But now I don’t care what anyone has to say.”