Serena Williams Wants to Hug Naomi Osaka: 'I Know What It's Like'

Naomi Osaka's decision to walk away from the French Open following controversy over her media duties has received support from several high-profile athletes, including Serena Williams and Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry.

On Monday, the Japanese announced she would "take some time away from the court" to protect her mental well-being and withdrew from the second Grand Slam tournament of the season with immediate effect.

The bombshell decision came just a day after Osaka was fined $15,000 for skipping her post-match press conference following her first-round victory against Patricia Maria Tig.

Last week, the world No. 2 announced she would skip media obligations at the French Open because of the negative impacts speaking to the press was having on her mental health.

Following her first-round win, however, she was received a stern warning from the French Open organizers over her conduct. In a joint statement that included the other three Grand Slam tournaments—the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open—officials indicated she could be expelled form the tournament should she not comply with her media obligations.

Ultimately, Osaka took the decision off the organizers' hands and announced on Monday she was retiring from the tournament.

"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," the four-time Grand Slam winner wrote in a statement she shared on Twitter.

"I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and message could have been clearer."

pic.twitter.com/LN2ANnoAYD

— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) May 31, 2021

Osaka's decision to quit the tournament was immediately met with showings of support from the world of sport.

Speaking to the media after her first round win, Williams said she knew what her rival was going through.

"I feel for Naomi. I feel like I wish I could give her a hug, because I know what it's like," Williams said in her press conference.

"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 that she thinks she can, and that's the only thing I can say, I think she's doing the best that she can."

Williams wasn't the only player to support Osaka. Replying to the Japanese's post on Twitter, Coco Gauff, the world No. 25 and one of tennis' rising starts, said she "admired" her "vulnerability" and urged her to stay strong.

Meanwhile, former tennis great Martina Navratilova suggested Osaka's actions indicated more should be done to protect athletes' mental health.

"I am so sad about Naomi Osaka. I truly hope she will be ok," the 18-time Grand Slam champion wrote on Twitter.

"As athletes we are taught to take care of our body, and perhaps the mental & emotional aspect gets short shrift. This is about more than doing or not doing a press conference. Good luck Naomi—we are all pulling for you!"

I am so sad about Naomi Osaka.I truly hope she will be ok. As athletes we are taught to take care of our body, and perhaps the mental & emotional aspect gets short shrift. This is about more than doing or not doing a press conference. Good luck Naomi- we are all pulling for you!

— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) May 31, 2021

Women's world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and 20-time major winner Rafael Nadal also both supported Osaka's stance, but acknowledged speaking to the media was part of being a professional tennis player.

Backing for Osaka extended beyond tennis' boundaries, with Curry praising the reigning Australian Open champion for stepping away from the tournament.

"You shouldn't ever have to make a decision like this-but so damn impressive taking the high road when the powers that be dont protect their own. major respect," the three-time NBA champion tweeted in response to Osaka's post.

You shouldnt ever have to make a decison like this-but so damn impressive taking the high road when the powers that be dont protect their own. major respect @naomiosaka https://t.co/OcRd95MqCn

— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) May 31, 2021

In a statement to The Associated Press, the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) said it would look to help Osaka in whichever way it can.

"Mental health and awareness around it is one of the highest priorities to the WTA," the statement read.

"We have invested significant resources, staffing and educational tools in this area for the past 20-plus years and continue to develop our mental health support system for the betterment of the athletes and the organization. We remain here to support and assist Naomi in any way possible and we hope to see her back on the court soon."

In a statement to the media on Monday, Gilles Moretton, the president of the French Tennis Federation, said Osaka's withdrawal was "unfortunate" and hoped she would return to the tournament next year.

"First and foremost, we are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka," he said. "The outcome of Naomi withdrawing from Roland Garros is unfortunate. We wish her the best and the quickest possible recovery and we look forward to having Naomi in our tournament next year.

"As all the Grand Slams, the WTA, the ATP and the ITF, we remain very committed to all athletes' well-being and to continually improving all aspects of players' experience in our tournaments including with the media like we have always tried to do."

Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams
Naomi Osaka of Japan shakes hands with Serena Williams of the United States in their Women’s Singles Semifinals match during day 11 of the 2021 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on February 18 in Melbourne, Australia. Andy Cheung/Getty Images