French Open defends ‘pragmatic’ stance in Osaka dealings

Sports

Japan’s Naomi Osaka returns the ball to Romania’s Patricia Maria Tig during their first round match of the French open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium Sunday, May 30, 2021 in Paris. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

PARIS (AP) — French Open organizers defended their “pragmatic” approach in their dealings with four-time major champion Naomi Osaka during the tournament, saying Sunday they tried to engage with her several times before she decided to withdraw because she needed a mental health break.

“We did it the right way,” French tennis federation president Gilles Moretton said at a news conference on the last day of the tournament.

Osaka withdrew from Roland Garros after she was fined $15,000 for skipping the news conference after her first-round victory — and threatened by all four Grand Slam tournaments with the possibility of disqualification or suspension if she continued to avoid the media.

She said she experienced anxiety before speaking to the media and revealed she suffered bouts of depression.

“What we did all together with the slams — we had to do it,” Moretton said. “We did the right choice, even if you feel like we shouldn’t say anything … regarding Naomi.”

Amelie Oudea-Castera, the French tennis federation director general, said organizers “really tried to engage with Naomi several times, several ways, including on the practice courts, including in writing.”

Oudea-Castera said organizers had written to Osaka privately before the four Grand Slam tournaments publicly fined her and warned of possible additional punishment if she went ahead with her plan to not attend news conferences.

Oudea-Castera said they were merely reminding Osaka of the rules.

“There is a specific book explaining that. And when you regularly default your obligations without giving specific explanations in particular, you expose yourself to a default or more permanent sanction,” Oudea-Castera said. “We wanted her to know because it was a way to protect her to explain that to her.”

Tennis players are required to attend news conferences if requested to do so. They face a maximum fine of $20,000 if they violate the rules.

“On the $15,000 fine, you noticed we did not want to put that fine at the maximum,” said Oudea-Castera. “On purpose, we only wanted to be at 15, because we wanted to send a message that we wouldn’t go to a default right away. We wanted to have a progressive escalation should she continue not to commit to her obligations.”

Oudea-Castera acknowledged tennis officials “can do better” in dealing with players’ mental health issues, adding that all four Grand Slams will “take the initiative on the matter together.”

Osaka has said she would take time away from the sport, and Moretton said former French professional player Nathalie Dechy received a positive update from the 23-year-old who is ranked No. 2.

“That’s the most important thing for us,” Moretton said.

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