Japanese superstar Naomi Osaka on Sunday was threatened with disqualification from the French Open if she persisted with her controversial media boycott, officials said.
“We have advised Naomi Osaka that should she continue to ignore her media obligations, she would be exposing herself to possible further code of conduct infringement consequences,” said a statement from the four Grand Slam tournaments after the world No. 2 was fined US$15,000.
“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,” the statement said.
Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam winner, was sanctioned for refusing to hold a news conference after her opening 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) victory over Romanian world No. 63 Patricia Maria Tig.
The 23-year-old had said on the eve of the tournament that she would not carry out any media obligations, claiming news conferences are detrimental to her mental health.
She likened traditional post-match inquests to “kicking people when they’re down.”
French Tennis Federation president Gilles Moretton had described Osaka’s vow of silence as “a phenomenal error.”
The four Grand Slam events — Wimbledon, and the French, Australian and US Opens — said that they had written to Osaka “to check on her well-being and offer support.”
“She was also reminded of her obligations, the consequences of not meeting them and that rules should equally apply to all players,” the statement said. “Naomi Osaka today chose not to honour her contractual media obligations. The Roland Garros referee has therefore issued her a [US]$15,000 fine.”
Later on Sunday, Osaka’s position became more entrenched when she responded to her fine on Twitter.
“Anger is a lack of understanding. Change makes people uncomfortable,” she wrote.
After her match, Osaka agreed only to a cursory on-court television interview.
“For me, playing on clay is a work in progress,” the reigning US Open and Australian Open champion said on Court Philippe Chatrier. “Hopefully, the more I play, the better I will become.”
And that was that from a player who has now strung together 15 successive Grand Slam match wins.
The Grand Slam Board said that Osaka’s refusal to take part in media duties put opponents at a disadvantage.
“There is nothing more important than ensuring no player has an unfair advantage over another, which unfortunately is the case in this situation if one player refuses to dedicate time to participate in media commitments while the others all honour their commitments,” it said.
If Osaka was to be disqualified, it would be as sensational as Novak Djokovic’s default at last year’s US Open, when the world No. 1 was booted out for hitting a line judge with a ball.
Osaka’s defiant stand overshadowed the opening day of the French Open, which saw two-time runner-up Dominic Thiem crash out at the first hurdle.
Fourth seed and US Open champion Thiem, who had never been beaten in the first round in seven previous visits, squandered a two-set lead to lose 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 to 35-year-old Pablo Andujar of Spain.
“Losing after being two sets to zero up, it’s very strange to me, and I have to think about what’s wrong at the moment,” Thiem said.
Andujar said that his win over Roger Federer in Geneva, Switzerland, last month ranked higher.
“For me, he is like a myth,” the Spaniard said of Federer.
Fresh from her first career clay-court title in Madrid, Belarusian third seed Aryna Sabalenka eased past Croatian qualifier Ana Konjuh 6-4, 6-3.
World No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas rounded off the day with a 7-6 (8/6), 6-3, 6-1 victory over Jeremy Chardy.
The Greek is widely tipped as a potential champion should 13-time winner Rafael Nadal or Djokovic falter.
However, there was nobody inside the cavernous Chatrier Court to assess his credentials as the match started just before a 9pm COVID-19 curfew came into effect.
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