Piers Morgan has attempted to defend himself against accusations of sexism and racism by sharing a photo of himself with his arm around Serena Williams.

The ex-GMB behemoth posted the old snap after sparking a row over Haitian-Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka.

Morgan, 56, hit out at the world number two in a scathing Mail Online column after the 23-year-old announced that she would no longer take part in press conferences or interviews.

The sportswoman explained that her decision was a bid to protect her mental health, revealing that she had suffered constant bouts of depression since winning her first grand slam title three years ago.

But Morgan dismissed her deeply personal admission, accusing her of “playing the mental health card” and branding her an “arrogant spoiled brat whose fame and fortune appears to have inflated her ego to gigantic proportions”.

His comments were, inevitably, met with widespread fury online, with one Twitter user responding: “You just love bullying black women, don’t you?,” as they pointed to his highly publicised abhorrence of Meghan Markle.

Another said: “Is it ALL women or just women of colour you have a problem with?”

And a third remarked: “It really astounds me that you spend so much time attacking women of colour in the public eye. And you seem to be obsessed with Meghan.

“Paid to make baseless attacks for absolutely no good reason. I wonder if you’ll ever look back on this and experience shame.”

The 56-year-old dismissed the allegations in a series of tweets, writing in response to one critic: “What does her skin colour have to do with it? I’d have written the same column if Naomi Osaka was white. For you to now play the race card to attack and silence any perfectly justified criticism of her behaviour is shameful.”

Here were some of his other retorts:

On Tuesday morning, he continued his attempts to quash the attacks against him by tweeting:

Far from put the matter to bed, the photo invited an influx of fresh condemnation, with scores of Twitter slamming his attempt to use the photo as a shield.

They wrote:

Another user pointed out that Morgan hadn’t always treated Williams in a friendly manner, sharing an old headline in which the broadcaster “took aim” at the tennis superstar.

Meanwhile Williams, 39, has voiced her support for Osaka, after learning that the 23-year-old had pulled out of the French Open over the furore caused by her media boycott.

The 23-time grand slam winner 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.

She added: “You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to, in the best way she thinks she can.”

Osaka confirmed her withdrawal from the tournament on Monday night, writing on Twitter: “Hey everyone, this isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago.

“I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris.”

She continued: “I never wanted to be be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer.

“More importantly, I would never trivialise mental health or use the term lightly.

“The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that.

“Anyone that knows me knows I’m introverted, and anyone that has seen me at the tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety.

“Though the tennis press has always been kind to me (and I wanna apologise especially to all the cool journalists who I may have hurt), I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media.”

Osaka ended her lengthy post: “I’m gonna take some time away from the court now, but when the time is right I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans.”

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