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Nadal and Barty at odds with Naomi Osaka over media stance


The fallout from Naomi Osaka’s announcement that she will not be conducting her mandatory media duties at the French Open this year due to its effects on her mental health has continued at Roland Garros. Rafael Nadal, Ashleigh Barty and Daniil Medvedev were all asked to discuss Osaka’s comments during the pre-tournament media day.

Nadal, trying to win his 14th Roland Garros title over the next fortnight, affirmed his “respect” for Osaka and her decision while arguing for the importance of the press in promoting sports: “I respect it,” said Nadal. “I respect her, of course, as an athlete and her personality. I respect her decision. I don’t know. I mean, we as sports people, I mean, we need to be ready to accept the questions and to try to produce an answer, no?

“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. We [wouldn’t] have the recognition that we have around the world, and we will not be that popular, no?”

Barty, the world No 1, said that she views speaking with the press as part of the job: “We know what we sign up for as professional tennis players. I can’t really 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 or being completely honest with you guys. It’s not something that’s ever fazed me too much.”

Medvedev, the second seed, said that he is satisfied with his press encounters because journalists are yet to tell him how he should act on-court: “I don’t see any journalist trying to go at me, you know,” he said. “Of course we know, for example, I don’t win a lot on clay and I can get crazy. But I didn’t really have one journalist saying: ‘OK, you shouldn’t do this or that,’ because that’s when I’m going to get crazy. I’m going to say: ‘You cannot tell this to me.’”

Medvedev also argued that he is rather more concerned by social media abuse, particularly from gamblers, than his interactions in the press room: “Talking about journalists, me, I have no problems. I try always to come to press conference [whether in a] bad mood or good mood. And I feel like even sometimes in the bad mood I can be in a better mood after talking to you guys.”

Osaka may have anticipated more public agreement from her colleagues. On Thursday night, Sports Illustrated journalist Jon Wertheim published an email correspondence from Osaka to the French Tennis Federation, affirming her aim to change the current system.

“This stance is against the system requiring athletes to be forced to do press on occasions when they are suffering from mental health,” she wrote. “I believe it is archaic and in need of reform. After this tournament I want to work with the Tours and the governing bodies to figure out how best we compromise to change the system.”

Earlier on Thursday, the French Tennis Federation president, Gilles Moretton, had branded Osaka’s announcement a “phenomenal mistake” and said the tournament would enforce the rules which stipulate that players can be fined up to $20k. Osaka’s absence from the pre-tournament press conference would mark her first rule breach.

The Women’s Tennis Association later offered a statement on Osaka, affirming the importance of mental health to the organisation and the role that media plays in its promotion: “The WTA welcomes a dialogue with Naomi (and all players) to discuss possible approaches that can help support an athlete as they manage any concerns related to mental health, while also allowing us to deliver upon our responsibilities to the fans and public. Professional athletes have a responsibility to their sport and their fans to speak to the media surrounding their competition, allowing them the opportunity to share their perspective and tell their story.”

Meanwhile, the British No 1 Johanna Konta announced that she became engaged to her boyfriend, Jackson, last Monday on her 30th birthday: “We haven’t set a date yet. It was a semi surprise, I wasn’t completely shocked, I kind of expected it once the box came into my hand and I thought this could be a ring, all done in good humour and all done with lots of love and it was something that I will always think back on as really lovely,” she said.





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