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Naomi Osaka “felt ashamed” about mental health break because athletes are “told to push through everything”

The former world No 1 had taken a break from the sport after her French Open withdrawal in 2021

Naomi Osaka at the 2022 Madrid Open Naomi Osaka at the 2022 Madrid Open Image Credit: AI/Reuters/Panoramic

Four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka has been honest and upfront about her mental health struggles. However, in a recent interview, the 25-year-old reveals she initially felt ashamed to take a mental health break from the sport last year because athletes are expected to push through everything.

Following her decision to not speak to the media at the French Open which snowballed into a major controversy leading her to pull out of the tournament after her first round win, Osaka took a break and did not play at Wimbledon.

While appearing on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Tuesday where she also spoke about her new children’s book, Osaka spoke about how difficult it is for athletes at times to admit they have a problem but she is glad she did it anyways.

“I felt like [the break] was necessary, but I kind of felt ashamed in that moment because as an athlete, you’re kind of told to be strong and push through everything, but I think I learned that it’s better to re-group and adjust the feelings you have in that moment and you can come back stronger,” Osaka said.

“I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way [taking the break] because I learned a lot during that time. I think for me, I’ve just always been taught to kind of like stick it out or work through it, and I think that’s a very valuable lesson because it has gotten me through a lot of things in life. But there was just a point where I thought to myself like, ‘Why?’ you know. And not in a negative way, but if I am feeling this way, why would I keep pushing through it when I can confront it and fix it and then continue on my journey?”

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The 25-year-old, who lit the cauldron at the Tokyo Olympics last year, also revealed how she was honoured when many fellow athletes came up to her and supported her.

“I was kind of huddled up in my house for a while after that whole thing happened [at Roland Garros],” she said. “Then I went to the Olympics and there were so many athletes that came up to me, and I was so surprised, and I was so honored because these are people that I watch on TV, and I felt really grateful and felt really supported.”

Now ranked No 42 in the world, Osaka played only one tournament since her opening round loss at the US Open – the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, where she received a walkover in her first match and then pulled out after the first game of her second match due to an injury.

The Japanese player, who is the highest earning female athlete in the world, is on the entry list for the Australian Open, which was released earlier this week.

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