The highly-anticipated French Open is well and truly underway. Competition began yesterday with the opening round, but not all eyes have been on the court.
Despite winning her first match yesterday against Patricia Maria Țig, world number two Naomi Osaka has not just been making headlines for her performances. The Japanese star caused a commotion when she announced she would refrain from partaking in media duties during Roland-Garros.
With the situation now escalating, GiveMeSport Women looks at what has unfolded so far and what could happen next.
What was Osaka’s initial stance?
Last Wednesday, four-times Grand Slam winner Osaka announced she would not speak to the media during the French Open. She posted a statement on Twitter, citing the disregard for athletes’ mental health during press conferences.
“I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one,” Osaka said.
“We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.”
The 23-year-old also claimed athletes facing the press after a defeat amounted to “kicking a person while they’re down”.
As expected, Osaka skipped the press conference after her opening round victory, although she did take part in an on-court interview.
What’s the reaction from tournament organisers?
The organisers of all four Grand Slam tournaments issued a statement after Osaka missed her post-match press conference.
They claimed they had “asked her to reconsider her position and tried unsuccessfully to speak with her to check on her well-being, understand the specifics of her issue and what might be done to address it on site.”
In addition: “Following the lack of engagement by Naomi Osaka, the Australian Open, Roland-Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open jointly wrote to her to check on her well-being and offer support, underline their commitment to all athletes’ well-being and suggest dialog on the issues. She was also reminded of her obligations, the consequences of not meeting them and that rules should equally apply to all players.”
With Osaka still maintaining her stance on media, she was fined $15,000 (£10,600). The statement also hinted she could be expelled from Roland-Garros.
“As might be expected, repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament.”
What’s the reaction from tennis stars?
While none of Osaka’s counterparts have criticised the star, they have not shown their complete support either.
World number one Ashleigh Barty admitted she felt media duties were “part and parcel of the job.”
“I can’t comment on what Naomi is feeling or her decisions she makes. At times press conferences are hard of course but it’s also not something that bothers me. I’ve never had problems answering questions. It’s not something that’s ever fazed me too much.”
Similarly, one of Osaka’s closest friends and defending Roland-Garros champion, Iga Świątek, revealed she had no problems speaking to the media.
“It’s important because not everybody is a professional athlete and not everybody knows what we are dealing with on the court. It’s good to speak about that,” the 19-year-old said.
Tennis icon Billie Jean King has also had her say on the matter, disclosing she has a split mind about the situation.
“I fully admire and respect what Naomi is doing with her platform, so I am a little torn as I try to learn from both sides of the situation,” King wrote on Twitter. “While it’s important that everyone has the right to speak their truth, I have always believed that as professional athletes we have a responsibility to make ourselves available to the media.”
“In our day, without the press, nobody would have known who we are or what we thought. There is no question they helped build and grow our sport to what it is today.”
What could happen next?
Osaka is now in a stand-off with Grand Slam organisers. If she continues to skip press conferences, it could result in her expulsion from the Roland-Garros and even her suspension from future Grand Slams.
Osaka is one of the biggest names in tennis, however, and her presence at tournaments always attracts heightened interest and crowds. Would Grand Slam organisers really want to omit her from future events?
On the other hand, organisers will be wanting to prevent more tennis players from taking the same stance as Osaka and ignoring the press. In their opinion, there must be a deterrent to reduce the chance of a complete media blackout.
Osaka’s next match at Roland-Garros will be against Romania’s Ana Bogdan on June 2nd. Only time will tell whether she is the first to back down, or whether she forces the hand of Grand Slam organisers.