Elliott: Naomi Osaka withdraws from Wimbledon, plans to compete in Olympics; Nadal skips both

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Japan's Naomi Osaka prepares to serve to United States' Jennifer Brady
Naomi Osaka has pulled out of Wimbledon but plans to compete at the Tokyo Olympics this summer. (Associated Press)

Naomi Osaka, the No.-2 ranked female tennis player in the world, has withdrawn from Wimbledon but intends to compete in the Tokyo Olympics, her representatives said in a statement issued Thursday.

Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam tournament winner, pulled out of this year’s French Open after saying she had experienced anxiety while participating in news conferences. She initially said she would play but would skip the mandatory media sessions. However, she withdrew after organizers of the four Grand Slam events said they might ban her from their tournaments if she continued to violate media availability rules.

When she announced her withdrawal she said for the first time publicly she had suffered long bouts of depression since her victory over Serena Williams in the 2018 U.S. Open final, a disclosure that opened discussions about the potentially adverse effects highly charged competition and its accompanying obligations can have on players’ mental health.

Osaka, 24, was born in Japan to a Haitian father and Japanese mother. She lived in Japan until she was 3 and her family moved to the United States. Her success and her ability to speak Japanese have made her immensely popular among sports fans in her native country, which she represents in international competition. She has a wide-ranging endorsement portfolio and is a favorite subject in fashion and lifestyle publications. She lives in Los Angeles.

“She is taking some personal time with friends and family,” the statement about her withdrawal from Wimbledon said. “She will be ready for the Olympics and is excited to play in front of her home fans.”

Rafael Nadal, the third-ranked men’s player in the world, also withdrew from Wimbledon on Thursday and added he will not compete at the Tokyo Olympics. Nadal, 35, is coming off a dramatic semifinal loss to Novak Djokovic at the French Open, where he had prevailed 13 times on the clay of Roland-Garros. Nadal was the flag bearer for Spain in the 2016 Rio Olympics and won a gold medal in doubles. He previously had won a gold medal in singles in 2008.

“It’s never an easy decision to take but after listening to my body and discuss it with my team I understand that it is the right decision,” Nadal said via social media. “The goal is to prolong my career and continue to do what makes me happy, that is to compete at the highest level and keep fighting for those professional and personal goals at the maximum level of competition.

Rafael Nadal waves after losing to Novak Djokovic in their semifinal match of the French Open on June 11.
Rafael Nadal waves after losing to Novak Djokovic in their semifinal match of the French Open on June 11. (Michel Euler / Associated Press)

“The fact that there has only been 2 weeks between RG and Wimbledon didn’t make it easier on my body to recuperate after the always demanding clay court season. They have been two months of great effort and the decision I take is focused looking at the mid and long term.”

Nadal and Roger Federer are tied for the career lead in Grand Slam singles titles, with 20 each. Djokovic added his 19th title by winning the final in Paris.

Osaka’s decision to skip Wimbledon was not a complete surprise, given her stated intention to spend some time taking care of mental health. Also, the grass courts of Wimbledon have not been kind to her: She has gotten as far as the third round in her three appearances. She won her four Slam singles title on hard courts, two at the Australian Open and two at the U.S. Open.

Officials with the All England Club, which organizes Wimbledon, had reached out to Osaka and other players in recent weeks to discuss interview procedures that would satisfy the needs of players and the media. It’s unclear if any policy changes will be adopted.

Dominic Thiem of Austria, who won the 2020 U.S. Open men's championship and is ranked No. 5 in the world, said via social media he had withdrawn from the Olympic tournament because "2021 did not start as expected and I don't feel ready to play my best in Tokyo. ... My goal is to work hard the coming weeks, give my best at Wimbledon and keep training and hopefully defend my US Open title."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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