Osaka, who is due to return to the elite game at the Olympics, called for privacy and empathy

Credit: Andy Brownbill
/AP

Naomi Osaka has thanked the Duchess of Sussex for supporting her in her mental health struggle.

In an essay for a special issue of Time magazine ahead of the Olympics, the Japanese tennis player addressed the fallout surrounding her decision not to participate in the traditional post-match press conference at the French Open and her subsequent break from Grand Slams.

She also thanked Michelle Obama, Novak Djokovic, and Stephen Curry, the basketball player, whom she said had “supported, encouraged and offered such kind words”.

Osaka is understood to have known the Duchess for a while, having appeared in the Sussexes’ first Spotify podcast in December.

She was among several friends and associates, including Sir Elton John and James Corden, whom the couple asked to record audio diaries detailing how they would reflect on the past year when they had “a moment to themselves”.

Osaka, who is due to return to the elite game at the Olympics, called for “privacy” and “empathy” in her article.

The four-time grand slam champion said she hoped “we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones”.

She wrote: “In any other line of work, you would be forgiven for taking a personal day here and there, so long as it’s not habitual. Athletes are humans.”

Osaka’s sponsors, including Nike and Mastercard, have so far rallied around her but her contracts with them will be partly performance-related.

She said during her withdrawal from the French Open, and then subsequently from Wimbledon, that she had “suffered long bouts of depression” since winning her first major at the 2018 US Open.

Explaining her comment, she wrote: “You wouldn’t have to divulge your most personal symptoms to your employer; there would likely be HR measures protecting at least some level of privacy. 

“Perhaps we should give athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions… I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms – frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me.”

After Osaka was fined by the French Open for failing to appear at a post-match press conference, the International Olympic Committee told Telegraph Sport that no athlete would be under obligation to attend one during this summer’s Games.

Osaka said she believed sick days “would bring sport in line with the rest of society”. “In any other line of work, you would be forgiven for taking a personal day here and there, so long as it’s not habitual,” she wrote.

She also spoke out about the Olympics in May, saying how rising Covid-19 cases were “a big cause for concern” and admitting she was “not really sure” the Games should proceed.