Hamilton defends Naomi Osaka: ‘Mental health is no joke’

Lewis Hamilton offered his support to tennis star Naomi Osaka who has pulled out of the French Open to focus on her mental health, insisting that an athlete’s emotional well-being “is no joke”.

Ahead of this month’s Grand Slam tournament at Roland Garros, Osaka announced that she would not fulfill her post-match duties with the media because of the latter’s “disregard” for a defeated player’s mental health.

“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,” Osaka wrote on Twitter.

Although Osaka won her first-round match in Paris on Sunday, the 23-year-old Japanese tennis star was fined $15,000 for skipping the post-match press conference and warned by all Grand Slam organisers that stiffer penalties or an outright suspension could be levied upon her of she continued to avoid the media.

But on Monday, Osaka responded by withdrawing from the tournament and explaining that she suffered “long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018,” and has struggled to cope with it ever since.

Fellow competitor Serena Williams defended Osaka’s controversial decision.

“I feel for Naomi,” said Williams. “I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it’s like. Like I said, I’ve been in those positions.”

Hamilton followed suit with a comment on Osaka’s predicament on social media.

“Mental health is not a joke, this is real and serious,” wrote the seven-time world champion.

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“This takes a lot of courage to do. Let’s all make sure Naomi knows she’s not alone.

“Today is a good day to check and ask your friends and loved ones how they are doing and let them know they are not alone.”

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Hamilton has rarely publicly criticized the media during his time in F1, but in 2016 the Mercedes driver walked out of a post-qualifying media session at Suzuka.

The Briton’s reaction was in response to the press which had accused him days earlier of being “disrespectful” and making a mockery of the media conference on Thursday for fiddling with his phone during the session.

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