PARIS, France (AP): Naomi Osaka was fined US$15,000 (over J$2 million) at the French Open for skipping a post-match news conference after her first-round victory yesterday — and threatened by all four Grand Slam tournaments with stiffer penalties, including being defaulted, if she continues to avoid meeting with the media.
Osaka returned to Roland Garros after sitting out the tournament last year and turned in a mistake-filled 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory over 63rd-ranked Patricia Maria Tig at Court Philippe Chatrier on Day 1. She had declared Wednesday on social media she would not speak to the press and kept that promise.
Hours later, Osaka turned to her preferred method of communication these days, tweeting: “anger is a lack of understanding. change makes people uncomfortable.”
Other results perhaps were more newsworthy than a straight-set win by the No. 2-ranked Osaka —2020 U.S. Open champion and two-time French Open runner-up Dominic Thiem’s 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 loss to 68th-ranked Pablo Andujar comes to mind — but the events that unfolded after the Japanese superstar’s match were of high interest.
Tennis players are required to attend news conferences if requested to do so. The maximum fine, of course, is not a big deal to Osaka, the world’s highest-earning female athlete thanks to endorsement contracts totaling tens of millions of dollars.
She framed the matter as a mental health issue, saying that it can create self-doubt to have to answer questions after a loss.
“She’s capable of making her own choices and obviously she will do always what’s best for her,” Tig said. “I think that’s what’s happening now.”
Other players, notably 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal and No. 1-ranked Ash Barty, have said they respect Osaka’s right to take a stance but explained that they consider speaking to reporters’ part of the job.
The fine was assessed by the tournament referee at Roland Garros and announced in a joint statement from the president of the French tennis federation, Gilles Moretton, and counterparts at the sport’s other majors: Tennis Australia President Jayne Hrdlicka, All England Club Chairman Ian Hewitt and U.S. Tennis Association President Mike McNulty.
They said they understand the importance of protecting athletes’ mental health but also noted that “rules are in place to ensure all players are treated exactly the same, no matter their stature, beliefs or achievement.”
The statement said Osaka had been approached and asked to reconsider her position but there was a “lack of engagement.”
Osaka, the group of Slam leaders said, has been “advised” 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.”
Citing the rule book, the statement noted that “tougher sanctions” from “repeat violations” could include being defaulted from the tournament and “the trigger of a major offense investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions.”
Osaka’s agent did not reply to an emailed request for comment from the AP.
After her win, Osaka did go ahead with the perfunctory exchange of pleasantries with an on-court French Open “interviewer” who lobs softball questions so spectators can hear something from the athletes.
The topic of Osaka’s troubles on clay courts arose in that chat with former player Fabrice Santoro.
“I would say it’s a work in progress,” said Osaka, who has won four Slam titles on hard courts but never been past the French Open’s third round. “Hopefully the more I play, the better it will get.”