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Naomi Osaka fined $15,000 for skipping French Open news conference; Grand Slams issue warning

Naomi Osaka returns the ball to Romania's Patricia Maria Tig during their first round match of the French open on Sunday. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

French Open officials fined world No. 2 Naomi Osaka $15,000 on Sunday for flouting her “contractual media obligations” in skipping a post-match news conference and, joined by the three other Grand Slams, voiced concern for players’ emotional health while raising the specter of escalating sanctions — including potential suspension.

Osaka announced Wednesday that she would not take part in post-match news conferences during the two-week French Open, as players are required to, to safeguard her mental well-being.

The tournament’s formal response was made public in a lengthy news release Sunday, the event’s opening day, and co-signed by top executives of Wimbledon and the Australian and U.S. opens.

“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 statement read. “As might be expected, repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament (Code of Conduct article III T.) and the trigger of a major offence investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions (Code of Conduct article IV A.3.).”

According to the statement, French Open officials privately asked Osaka to reconsider her position and sought to speak with her about her well-being but got no response.

The statement read that “following her lack of engagement,” officials of the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open jointly wrote her to check on her well-being, offer support, underscore their commitment to athletes’ well-being and seek a conversation about the matter. The letter included a reminder of Osaka’s media obligations and the consequences for all players in not meeting them.

After Osaka skipped the obligatory news conference that followed her opening-round, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) victory over 63rd-ranked Patricia Maria Tig on Sunday, the French Open referee issued the $15,000 fine.

On Wednesday, Osaka shared her decision with her 2.2 million social media followers, explaining that she was asked the same questions repeatedly in interviews and often probed about topics that sowed doubt in her mind. So to safeguard her emotional health, she explained, she wouldn’t take part, adding that she would gladly pay any fine and suggested the money be donated to mental health charities.

Naomi Osaka, citing mental health concerns, says she won’t do press at French Open

Osaka’s stance has drawn both support and puzzlement from fellow athletes, journalists and sports fans alike.

Many applaud her for prioritizing her mental health and making her position known publicly. Others have noted that doing media interviews, however tedious or unwelcome, is part of the job of being a professional athlete.

Asked to comment on Osaka’s stance during his pretournament news conference Friday, 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal said he respected Osaka and her decision. But Nadal said he felt that professional athletes had a duty to answer questions about their performance.

“I understand her, but on the other hand, for me, I mean, without the press, without the people who normally travel, who are writing the news and achievements that we are having around the world, we probably will not be the athletes that we are today,” Nadal said. “We [wouldn’t] have the recognition that we have around the world, and we will not be that popular, no?”

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, who practiced with Osaka at Roland Garros before the tournament began, said she could not comment on Osaka’s decision but offered: “We know what we sign up for as professional tennis players. … At times press conferences are hard, of course, but it’s also not something that bothers me.”

Grand Slam officials framed players’ obligation as follows:

“A core element of the Grand Slam regulations is the responsibility of the players to engage with the media, whatever the result of their match, a responsibility which players take for the benefit of the sport, the fans and for themselves,” the statement read. “These interactions allow both the players and the media to share their perspective and for the players to tell their story. The facilitation of media to a broad array of channels, both traditional and digital, is a major contributor to the development and growth of our sport and the fan base of individual players."

It went on to state that all the Grand Slams regarded players’ mental health as “of the utmost importance.” But to better help athletes in that regard, it noted, tournament officials needed to understand players’ perspectives through dialogue.

Osaka, 23, is a four-time Grand Slam winner and defending champion of the U.S. and Australian opens. On the heels of her 2019 Australian Open victory, she became the first Asian player to be ranked No. 1.

In May 2020, Forbes reported that Osaka had overtaken Serena Williams as the world’s highest earning female athlete during the previous 12 months, with $37.4 million in prize money and endorsements.

Known for her powerful groundstrokes and fierce competitive will, she has yet to reach the finals of major on grass or clay, an aspect of her game that she is working on.

Since her emergence in the global spotlight with her victory at the 2018 U.S. Open, Osaka has found her voice as a social activist amid the Black Lives Matter movement, using her platform as an athlete to powerful effect.

Throughout her seven-match run to the 2020 U.S. Open title, she walked onto court wearing a mask with the name of a different Black person killed by police, such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tamir Rice.