Naomi Osaka was fined $15,000 when she skipped the news conference after her first-round victory at the French Open on Sunday — and drew a stunning warning from all four Grand Slam tournaments that she could face stiffer penalties, including disqualification or even suspension, if she continues to avoid 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 — 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.
“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,” they said. “These interactions allow both the players and the media to share their perspective and for the players to tell their story.”
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.”