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French officials defend Naomi Osaka treatment

Naomi Osaka Roland Garros

Japan’s Naomi Osaka returns the ball to Romania’s Patricia Maria Tig during their women’s singles first round tennis match on Day 1 of The Roland Garros 2021 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on May 30, 2021. (Photo by MARTIN BUREAU / AFP)

As the French Open came to a close on Sunday, French tennis officials defended their treatment of Naomi Osaka.

Osaka, 23, withdrew after the first round, one day after she was threatened with potential expulsion from the tournament if she continued to boycott post-match press conferences.

Osaka announced prior to the tournament that she would not speak to the media at the French Open, contending those sessions can negatively impact an athlete’s mental health and confidence. The four-time Grand Slam winner and world’s second-ranked player was fined $15,000 after her first-round victory over Romania’s Patricia Maria Tig for her failure to take part in the media session.

French tennis federation director general Amelie Oudea-Castera pointed out that the fine was less than the maximum allowed ($20,000) as a sign of good faith.

“On the $15,000 fine, you noticed we did not want to put that fine at the maximum,” Oudea-Castera said. “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 says organizers “really tried to engage with Naomi several times, several ways, including on the practice courts, including in writing” to explain the potential repercussions for her media stance.

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

French tennis federation president Gilles Moretton also doubled down on the stance, saying all four Grand Slams were in alignment.

“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.”

“We did it the right way.”

Osaka won the U.S. Open (2018, 2020) and the Australian Open (2019, 2021). She has yet to advance past the third round at Roland Garros or Wimbledon.

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