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Serena Williams supports Naomi Osaka after French Open exit: 'I know what it's like'

The tennis legend said she feels for Osaka but also that enduring tough press conferences personally made Williams stronger.
/ Source: TODAY

Serena Williams sympathized with fellow tennis star Naomi Osaka after Osaka withdrew from the French Open Monday, citing her anxiety over press conferences.

Williams spoke about Osaka's decision in her post-match press conference after a first-round win over Irina-Camelia Begu on Monday.

"I feel for Naomi," Williams said. "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."

Williams, 39, has faced intense media scrutiny as the top player in the sport over the years, including many difficult press conferences after tough losses.

"Many of them I’ve been into where I’ve been ― very difficult to walk in in those moments,” she said. “But you know, it made me stronger."

Osaka, 23, was fined $15,000 by tennis officials Sunday for skipping her press conference after she said she would not do media interviews during the tournament because she was prioritizing her mental health.

"We have different personalities and people are different," Williams said. "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."

Williams stressed the importance of reaching out for help during times of stress.

"You really have to step forward and make an effort, just as in anything, and say, ‘I need help with A, B, C and D,’ and talk to someone," she said. "I think that’s so important to have a sounding board, whether it’s someone at the WTA, or someone in your life, or maybe it’s someone you talk to on a weekly basis.

"I’ve been in that position too, and I’ve definitely had opportunities to talk to people and just get things off my chest that I can’t necessarily talk about to anyone in my family or anyone I know."

Osaka shared in a statement Monday that she has "suffered long bouts of depression" since 2018, when she won the U.S. Open with a controversial victory over Williams.

"I'm not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world's media," she wrote. "I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can."

The four-time Grand Slam winner said she wrote privately to the tournament organizers and apologized.

French Tennis Federation president Gilles Moretton said in a statement Monday that the organization was "sorry and sad" for Osaka.

"We wish her the best and the quickest possible recovery," Moretton said. "And we look forward to having Naomi in our tournament next year."

Osaka received messages of support from NBA star Stephen Curry, NFL star Russell Wilson and fellow tennis standout Coco Gauff. Tennis legend Billie Jean King also weighed in with a statement on Twitter, saying she was "torn" because she believes athletes have a responsibility to speak to the media, but she understands Osaka's decision.

"It’s incredibly brave that Naomi Osaka has revealed her truth about her struggle with depression," she also tweeted after Osaka withdrew from the tournament. "Right now, the important thing is that we give her the space and time she needs. We wish her well."