1 of 5 | Naomi Osaka suggested that tennis organizers provide athletes with "sick days" they can use to skip news conferences for personal reasons. File Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo
July 8 (UPI) -- Naomi Osaka says she "could not be more excited" to compete for Japan at the Olympics and wants professional tennis to institute personal-reason "sick days" for athletes ahead of her return from a mental health hiatus.
Osaka addressed her fans in an essay published Thursday in Time. She hasn't played competitively since she withdrew from the French Open in May, citing anxiety and depression. Osaka withdrew from the clay court Grand Slam after she was fined for failing to participate in a mandatory news conference.
In her essay, the No. 2 player in the WTA rankings explained two lessons she learned during her break from the sport. The first lesson is: "you can't please everyone." She said she also learned "literally everyone either suffers from issues related to their mental health or knows someone who does."
Osaka, who cited interviews as a factor in her anxiety, said she enjoys an "amazing relationship with the media," but does not "love all news conferences."
"I have numerous suggestions to offer the tennis hierarchy, but my No. 1 suggestion would be to allow a small number of 'sick days' per year where you are excused from your press commitments without having to disclose your personal reasons," Osaka wrote.
"I believe this would bring sport in line with the rest of society."
Osaka thanked her supporters in the essay, which will be part of Time's Olympic preview issue Friday. She said former first lady Michelle Obama, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 men's tennis player, were among those who reached out to her amid her break.
Osaka, 23, announced her plans to compete in the Summer Games in June. She will not be required to speak at news conferences in Tokyo.
"After taking the past few weeks to recharge and spend time with my loved ones, I have had the time to reflect, but also to look forward," Osaka wrote. "I could not be more excited to play in Tokyo.
"An Olympic Games itself is special, but to have the opportunity to play in front of the Japanese fans is a dream come true. I hope I can make them proud."
Osaka said she "feels uncomfortable" as the face of athlete mental health, but hopes people can relate, understand that it's OK not to be OK and discuss their struggles.
"There are people who can help, and there is usually light at the end of any tunnel," Osaka wrote.
Osaka will further discuss her hiatus as part of a Naomi Osaka documentary series, which premiers July 16 on Netflix.
"I always have this pressure to maintain the squeaky image," Osaka said in a trailer for the series, released Wednesday. "But now I don't care what anyone has to say."
The Japan native, who skipped Wimbledon 2021, has not announced her plans for the 2021 U.S. Open. The women's singles tennis circuit at the Summer Games runs from July 24 through Aug. 1 at Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo.
Simone Biles stands on the floor after winning the gold medal in the floor exercise at the Olympic Arena of the Rio Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on August 16, 2016. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo