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Naomi Osaka has made her first public appearance since withdrawing from the French Open and Wimbledon — and for a very special occasion.
On Saturday, the tennis star, 23, attended the ESPY Awards at The Rooftop at Pier 17 at the Seaport in New York City. This year, Osaka — who was dressed in a bold striped black and white top with a green skirt by Louis Vuitton and was accompanied by her rapper boyfriend Cordae — won best female athlete during the show.
"I just really want to not say a long speech because I'm a bit nervous … I know this year has been really, it hasn't even finished, but it's been really tough for a lot of us. For me, I just want to say, I really love you guys and this is my first ESPYs so it's really cool to be surrounded by all these incredible athletes. I think all of you guys are really cool and I watch some of you on TV so it's really surreal to be here and yeah, thank you so much and I really appreciate it," said Osaka, who is also nominated in the best female tennis athlete category.
Osaka, who previously shared that she's suffered from depression since 2018, has largely stayed out of the public eye in efforts to focus on her mental health. Ahead of the French Open's start in late May, Osaka said she would not be taking part in the tournament's press conferences. After her first French Open victory, she skipped a post-match press conference and was fined $15,000 for not participating in media requirements.
Then in June, Osaka chose not to play in the 2021 Wimbledon tournament.
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The athlete recently penned a personal essay for TIME and opened up about the pressure she felt to cite mental health as her reason for withdrawing. "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. 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," Osaka wrote. "In my case, I felt under a great amount of pressure to disclose my symptoms — frankly because the press and the tournament did not believe me. I do not wish that on anyone and hope that we can enact measures to protect athletes, especially the fragile ones."
The No. 2 ranked tennis player continued, "I feel uncomfortable being the spokesperson or face of athlete mental health as it's still so new to me and I don't have all the answers. I do hope that people can relate and understand it's okay to not be okay, and it's okay to talk about it. There are people who can help, and there is usually light at the end of any tunnel."
Next, Osaka is headed to Tokyo to represent Japan at the Olympics, which will be her first major competition since May.
"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. 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," she wrote in her TIME essay.
In addition, Osaka will give her fans an unprecedented look at her personal life and career highlights when her Netflix documentary Naomi Osaka premieres on July 16.
The 2021 ESPY Awards, hosted by Anthony Mackie, will broadcast live on ABC at 8 p.m. EST on July 10, and are expected to follow COVID-19 safety protocols and adhere to CDC guidelines.