SERENA WILLIAMS has given her backing to Naomi Osaka after the Japanese star sensationally withdrew from the French Open after refusing to end her media boycott.
On Monday, Osaka, 23, pulled out of Roland Garros after defiantly vowing to continue avoiding press conferences.
The world No2 was fined £10,600 for not speaking after her first-round victory in Paris, citing mental health concerns over critical questions.
And now Williams, 39, has thrown her support behind Osaka – who is set to take a break from tennis – saying she wishes she could give her a hug.
The American 23-time Grand Slam winner sympathised: “The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi.
“I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it’s like. I’ve been in those positions.
“We have different personalities and people are different. Not everyone is the same.
“I’m thick. Other people are thin. Everyone is different and everyone handles things differently.
“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 she can.”
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Tennis legend Billie Jean King has also supporter Osaka’s decision.
King said: “It’s incredibly brave that Naomi Osaka has revealed her truth about her struggle with depression.
“Right now, the important thing is that we give her the space and time she needs. We wish her well.”
Osaka had been threatened with expulsion from Roland Garros and potential suspension from the other Grand Slams if she continue her media boycott.
But in a statement posted on Twitter, she claimed she has anxiety and stress issues when speaking in front of the media.
Osaka – who may now miss Wimbledon – said: “This isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago.
“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.
“I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer.
“More importantly I would never trivialise mental health or use the term lightly.
“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.”
Osaka continued: “Anyone that knows me knows I’m introverted, and anyone that has seen me at the tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety.
“Though the tennis press has always been kind to me – and I want to apologise especially to all the cool journalists I may have hurt – I am not a natural public speaker.
“And get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media.
“I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can.
“So here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences.
“I announced it pre-emptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that.
“I wrote privately to the tournament apologising and saying that I would be more than happy to speak with them after the tournament as the slams are intense.”