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Serena Williams wishes she could give Naomi Osaka 'a hug' after her withdrawal from the French Open

Serena Williams gives her reaction to Naomi Osaka's withdrawal from the French Open, saying: "I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it's like"; the world No 2 pulled out due to the furore caused by her boycott of media duties and her struggles with depression

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Serena Williams offered her support to Naomi Osaka after her French Open withdrawal on Monday

Serena Williams only found out about Naomi Osaka's withdrawal after winning her first-round match at the French Open, but wishes she could giver her "a hug".

The 39-year-old American made a winning start to her Roland Garros campaign defeating Irina-Camelia Begu in straight-sets, before learning of Osaka's withdrawal en route to her press conference.

Osaka had refused to take part in press conferences or interviews and the 23-year-old was threatened with disqualification and a ban from future tournaments if she did not reconsider.

The world No 2 pulled out before opening up about her struggles with depression dating back to her first Slam title in 2018 when talking to the media triggered anxiety.

Naomi Osaka closing her eyes following her loss to Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic in the French Open tournament in Paris on June 1, 2019. (Kyodo via AP Images) ==Kyodo
Image: Osaka said she experiences huge waves of anxiety before speaking to the media and revealed she has suffered long bouts of depression

"Honestly I just found out before I walked into the press conference, so that's the extent of it right now for me," said Williams, who is pursuing a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title in Paris.

Pushed for her opinion on Osaka's claim last week that post-match media conferences were damaging her mental wellbeing, and Monday's unexpected development, Williams said: "The only thing I feel is that I feel for Naomi. I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it's like. I've been in those positions.

"We have different personalities, and people are different. Not everyone is the same. I'm thick. Other people are thin. You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to, in the best way she thinks she can."

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Williams, who will face Romanian Mihaela Buzarnescu in the second round, also spoke about mental health issues off the court.

The three-time French Open champion believes it is important for players to have someone to use as a "sounding board" in tough times.

Serena Williams celebrates after defeating Romania's Irina-Camelia Begu during their first round match on day two of the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, Monday, May 31, 2021. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Image: Williams, 39, was inevitably asked for her reaction to Osaka's decision following her first-round win over Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu

"I feel like there is a lot of articles that they put out. I think you really have to step forward and make an effort, just as in anything. You have to be able to make an effort and say, I need help with A, B, C, and D, and talk to someone," said Williams.

"I think that's so important to have a sounding board, whether it's someone at the WTA or whether it's someone in your life. Maybe it's someone that you just talk to on a weekly basis.

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

"For me it's important to have awareness and make that step."

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