PARIS — Naomi Osaka’s return to the French Open was triumphant as she won her first-round match over Patricia Maria Tig on Sunday in straight sets. But Osaka did not emerge unscathed from the tournament’s opening day.
She was later fined $15,000 by the French Open tournament referee for declining to appear at a mandatory postmatch news conference and was warned that she risked stronger penalties, including default from the tournament, if she continued not to fulfill her media obligations.
That surprisingly stern warning was delivered in a statement signed by the leaders of the four Grand Slam tournaments: Gilles Moretton, the new president of the French Tennis Federation; Mike McNulty, the new head of the United States Tennis Association; Jayne Hrdlicka, the head of Tennis Australia; and Ian Hewitt, chairman of the All England Club, which runs Wimbledon.
The Grand Slam events’ leaders also emphasized that repeat violations by Osaka could lead to “more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions.”
Osaka, a four-time major singles champion who is one of the sport’s biggest stars, is now faced with a choice. Before the French Open began, she announced that she would not do “any press” during the tournament, citing the need to preserve her “mental health” by avoiding repetitive and potentially negative questions from journalists.
But if the intent was to limit distractions and find inner calm, she now faces a potentially bigger concern in Paris if she continues to abstain from news conferences.
The Grand Slam leaders expressed frustration with Osaka’s lack of engagement with tennis officials, explaining in their statement that the French Open management team had “tried unsuccessfully to speak with her to check on her well-being, understand the specifics of her issue and what might be done to address it on site.”
The Grand Slam leaders said they had written jointly to Osaka to remind her of her obligations and of the consequences she faced for not complying with the rules. The leaders also emphasized the importance of equal treatment.
“We want to underline that rules are in place to ensure all players are treated exactly the same, no matter their stature, beliefs or achievement,” the statement said. “As a sport 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.”
Leading players such as Andre Agassi, Venus Williams and Novak Djokovic have skipped news conferences after defeats and been fined. But this is the first instance of a top player making it clear in advance that she did not intend to speak with the news media during a Grand Slam tournament.
Osaka, who is based in the United States and represents Japan, has had, in general, a positive relationship with the news media. She is the world’s highest paid female athlete, with the bulk of her earnings coming from sponsorships. She has raised her profile not simply by winning major titles but by advocating social justice; she wore masks after matches at last year’s United States Open that honored Black victims of violence, including police violence.