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World No. 2 Naomi Osaka quits French Open after stand-off about media appearances

Naomi Osaka French Open
Naomi Osaka quit the French Open on Monday.
Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

Naomi Osaka has quit the French Open after she was fined $15,000 by Grand Slam organizers for skipping a news conference following her first-round win at the tournament. She was also warned of possible expulsion from Roland Garros and future majors if she fails to meet her media commitments.

In the run-up to the claycourt major, the world No. 2 announced she would boycott news conferences while in Paris to raise awareness of players’ mental well-being, saying the nature of questions from journalists is like “kicking a person when they are down.”

“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. I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer,” Osaka wrote on Instagram. “More importantly I would never trivialize 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.”

Osaka started her French Open campaign with a 6-4, 7-6(4) win over Romanian Patricia Maria Tig and then snubbed the post-match news conference, although the four-time Grand Slam champion did hold a court-side interview immediately after the contest.

The board of the four Grand Slams said in a statement that the French Open organizers had asked Osaka to reconsider her position and tried unsuccessfully to speak with her to resolve the matter.

“The Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open jointly wrote to her to check on her well-being and offer support, underline their commitment to all athletes’ well-being, and suggest dialogue,” the statement read.

“She was also reminded of her obligations, the consequences of not meeting them, and that rules should equally apply to all players.

“Naomi Osaka today chose not to honor her contractual media obligations. The Roland Garros referee has therefore issued her a $15,000 fine.”

“Anger is a lack of understanding. Change makes people uncomfortable,” she wrote at the time.

The 23-year-old, who lives in Florida, has never made it past the third round at Roland Garros and arrived in Paris having played only three matches on clay this season after early defeats in Madrid and Rome.

Osaka, who according to sports business website Sportico earned $55.2 million over the past 12 months, has previously used her platform and considerable media attention to highlight issues of police violence and racial inequality.

MEDIA DUTY

While announcing her decision on Twitter to boycott news conferences she said she hoped the “considerable amount” that she expected to forfeit as fines would go towards a mental health charity.

Rafa Nadal, a 20-times Grand Slam winner, and women’s world No. 1 Ash Barty have said they believe players have a duty to address the media.

Seven-time Grand Slam singles champion Mats Wilander said on Sunday that Osaka should not play tournament tennis until she is ready to take part in post-match news conferences.

“We have advised Naomi Osaka that should she continue to ignore her media obligations during the tournament, she would be exposing herself to possible further Code of Conduct infringement consequences,” the board of the four Grand Slams added.

“As might be expected, repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament … and the trigger of a major offense investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions.”

The board said it would be unfair to other players if Osaka refuses to face the press while others honor their commitments.

“We will see how everything will end up,” two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova said after her win in the opening round.

“But me personally, I was always trying to follow the rules and be fair not only on the court but off the court as well. Now it’s up to them to decide what’s going to be.”

Osaka showed no signs of being distracted by the issue during her opening match on a sun-bathed Philippe Chatrier court, however.

Asked in her courtside interview about how she adapts her game to the surface, Osaka said: “It’s a work in progress. Hopefully, the more I play the better I play.”

“I’m really glad that I won. It’s a beautiful court. I’ve only played two matches here (on Philippe Chatrier), one before the roof and one now, so hopefully I’ll keep it going.”

Osaka, who missed last year’s tournament due to a hamstring problem, was not keen on engaging in long rallies and seemed too powerful against the 63rd-ranked Tig.

She stamped her authority on the match early with a 5-2 lead but needed a second break of serve after the Romanian staged a late fightback.

Tig saved a breakpoint and a match point to take the second set into a tiebreaker before Osaka sealed it with a backhand winner to set up a second-round meeting with another Romanian in Ana Bogdan.

This report from Reuters features additional reporting from Joe Pantorno

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