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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Naomi Osaka fined, warned for skipping French Open media; Dominic Thiem knocked out

The Grand Slam tournaments' statement said Osaka has been "advised that should she continue to ignore her media obligations... she would be exposing herself to possible further Code of Conduct infringement consequences."

By: AP | Paris |
May 30, 2021 10:46:23 pm
Naomi Osaka, 23, had said that she would take some time away from the game. (File)

Naomi Osaka was fined $15,000 at the French Open for skipping a post-match news conference after her first-round victory Sunday — and threatened by all four Grand Slam tournaments with stiffer penalties, including being defaulted, if she continues to avoid meeting with the media.

The fine will come out of Osaka’s prize money and was announced in a joint statement from the president of the French tennis federation, Gilles Moretton, and the heads of the other majors.

Osaka returned to Roland Garros after skipping the trip last time, turning in a mistake-filled 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory over 63rd-ranked Patricia Maria Tig at Court Philippe Chatrier on Day 1 in Paris.

After the 2020 French Open was pushed to a September start with a limit of 1,000 spectators per day because of the coronavirus outbreak, things were closer to normal Sunday: It was a sun-kissed May day and more than 5,000 fans were allowed in.

Other results perhaps were more newsworthy than a straight-set win by the No. 2-ranked Osaka — that’s certainly the case for 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 — but the events that unfolded after the Japanese superstar’s match were of high interest.

That’s because Osaka vowed in a Twitter post Wednesday, and then kept that promise Sunday, to stay away from the standard back-and-forth with the media in Paris, the sort of thing athletes in various sports do as a matter of course. She framed it as a mental health issue, saying that it creates self-doubt to have to answer questions after a loss.

Players at Grand Slam tournaments are required to attend news conferences if requested to do so; refusing is punishable by fines of up to $20,000.

That, of course, is not a big deal to Osaka, the world’s highest-earning female athlete thanks to endorsement contracts worth tens of millions of dollars annually.

“It’s her own choice. I think 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. It’s her choice of doing what she feels is best for her.”

The Grand Slam tournaments’ statement said Osaka has been “advised 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.”

Citing the rule book, the statement noted that “tougher sanctions from repeat violations could include default being disqualified from the tournament and the trigger of a major offense investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions.”

Osaka’s agent did not immediately reply to a request for comment from the AP on Sunday.

The whole thing didn’t mean Osaka was able to entirely elude any question about her problems playing on red clay, however. She did go ahead with the perfunctory exchange of pleasantries with on-court interviewers who lob softball questions so spectators can hear something from match winners.

In that chat with former player Fabrice Santoro, who is hardly a journalist and kindly offered to help Osaka by carrying the flowers she was given by the tournament, the topic of the event’s surface actually did arise.

Osaka’s Grand Slam titles only have come on hard courts. She has won the Australian Open twice, including this year, and the U.S. Open twice, including last year, but she never has been past the third round at the French Open.

“I would say it’s a work in progress,” Osaka said about her game on clay.

“Hopefully the more I play, the better it will get.”

Osaka showed how Sunday: controlling points with her attacking game. She won 31 of 35 points when her first serve landed in and accumulated 39 winners — more than twice as many as Tig’s 18.

Thiem had never lost in the first round in eight Roland Garros appearances and made it as far as the final twice before losing to Rafael Nadal in 2018 and 2019.

Andujar, who beat Roger Federer on clay in Geneva this month, had never before won a match after dropping the initial two sets.

Another past Grand Slam champion, three-time title winner and former No. 1 Angelique Kerber, was beaten 6-2, 6-4 by Anhelina Kalinina, a qualifier from Ukraine ranked 139th and making her tournament debut.

Roland Garros thus remains the only Grand Slam title that Kerber hasn’t won: She was the champion at the Australian Open and U.S. Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2018.

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