Naomi Osaka has been fined $15,000 (£10,570) for her refusal to “honour her contractual media obligations” following her 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory over Patricia Maria Tig in her first-round match at Roland Garros on Sunday .
In a lengthy and stern statement released shortly after her win, the four grand slam tournaments warned that should Osaka repeatedly violate the rules, she could be “exposing herself” to sanctions including being thrown out of the tournament and a major offence investigation that could lead to future grand slam suspensions.
Osaka had announced last Wednesday that she would not take part in press conferences at Roland Garros due to their effects on her mental health. In a statement posted on her social media channels, she criticised press conferences as “kicking a person while they’re down”, with journalists asking questions that “bring doubt into our minds”. While Osaka’s announcement received significant coverage and support from prominent figures outside the sport, many of her peers said they respected her opinion but offered differing views.
Osaka had also noted her expectation that she would be fined. With their 531-word statement, the grand slam tournaments obliged. They explained the Roland Garros organisation had “unsuccessfully” attempted to speak with her and check on her wellbeing. The grand slam tournaments’ attempts to reach out to her, they said, met a similar ending.
“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,” they wrote.
“As might be expected, repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament and the trigger of a major offence investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions.”
Earlier, Osaka, the second seed, shrugged off an unsatisfactory start to her clay season by defeating Tig. While Osaka has won the last two grand slams she has entered, the US Open and Australian Open, and is a dominant 23-1 on hard courts since the pandemic hiatus, on clay she is just 2-2 and she has never passed the third round in Paris.
Clay-court tennis produces numerous impediments for a big-hitting, fast-court player like Osaka. The surface blunts her power and lessens the effect of her serve. However, this encounter underlined that her own movement remains her main obstacle.
Osaka opted for the one plan that protected her unsure movement: she took control every time she could. Osaka struck 39 winners. She finished with 89% of points won on her first serve despite serving only one ace, demonstrating how effective it is at setting up quick serve plus forehand combinations.
As the match endured, however, the Romanian began to impose herself. Tig took more risks from the baseline, she landed more blows and she disrupted Osaka with ample drop shots. While Osaka entered the match attempting to slide, albeit awkwardly, into the majority of shots, the longer periods spent on the back foot exposed her lack of confidence in her movement. She slowly began to revert to taking inefficient steps each time she changed directions. She closed out the second set in the tie-break only because her serving and firepower was consistent enough to see her through.
Although Osaka refused to take part in other media interviews, she spoke with the former player Fabrice Santoro during the on-court interview. He asked three questions: on Mother’s Day in France, on returning to Roland Garros and about how she adapts her game to clay. The third question was perhaps the type she had hoped to avoid and she evaded it well: “I’d say it is a work-in-progress. Hopefully the more I play the better I get,” she said.
That was all. Osaka will next face Ana Bogdan, another Romanian, in the second round on Tuesday. She will have two days to consider whether to double down on her decision not to speak with the press or to come up with an alternative solution. On the court, her biggest test for her could be Paula Badosa, the 23-year-old Spaniard who has recorded a 14-2 record on clay this year and looms in the third round.
As one multiple grand slam champion moved into the second round, another was quietly brushed aside by an inexperienced challenger. Angelique Kerber, a three-times grand slam champion, has won the third highest number of majors over the past decade behind Serena Williams and Osaka. She is also in a slump and, at 33, it is difficult not to wonder if another revival will come.
After being easily beaten 6-0, 6-4 by the world No 66 Bernarda Pera in the Australian Open first round this year, Kerber suffered her third consecutive grand slam first round exit as she lost 6-2 6-4 to the world No 139 Anhelina Kalinina. Despite her frustration, Kerber explained afterwards that she has been training far better than she has played in matches and she is hopeful that she will improve on her beloved grass. Time will tell.