French Open officials defend handling of Naomi Osaka threat

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French Open officials believe they handled the Naomi Osaka situation properly, defending the fine and threat of expulsion that led to the four-time major champion withdrawing at Roland Garros for mental-health reasons.

“We did it the right way,” Gilles Moretton, the French tennis federation president, said at a news conference ahead of Sunday’s men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas. “What we did all together with the Slams, we had to do it. We did the right choice, even if you feel like we shouldn’t say anything … regarding Naomi.”

Citing anxiety issues and bouts of depression, the 23-year-old Osaka withdrew from the tournament after she’d been fined $15,000 for bypassing a news conference following her opening-round win. The two-time U.S. Open winner also was threatened by the four Grand Slam tournaments with potential disqualification from future competition if she continued skipping her media responsibilities.

French Open Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka during the first round of the French Open on May 30, 2021.
Corbis via Getty Images

French tennis federation director general Amelie Oudea-Castera said at the news conference that organizers had explained in writing to Osaka ahead of the tournament the potential for fines and supplemental discipline and they “really tried to engage with Naomi several times, several ways, including on the practice courts, including in writing.”

“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.”

The maximum fine for players not attend news conferences is $20,000, and Oudea-Castera added that Osaka was fined less than the max “on purpose… 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,” she added.

Osaka also has pulled out of next week’s WTA 500 grass-court tournament in Berlin, putting her participation in Wimbledon later this month in doubt.

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

— With AP

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