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Osaka takes center stage as French Open gets underway

Naomi Osaka

FILE PHOTO: Tennis -WTA Premier 5 – Italian Open – Foro Italico, Rome, Italy – May 12, 2021 Japan’s Naomi Osaka during her second road match against Jessica Pegula of U.S. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Naomi Osaka’s decision to shun the media at the French Open has rocked the tennis landscape and all eyes will be on the world number two when she takes on Romanian Patricia Maria Tig in her first match on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Sunday.

Osaka’s announcement that she would boycott her press conferences to protect her mental health has sparked heated debate, with the 23-year-old Japanese player drawing support and condemnation from various quarters.

Osaka missed last year’s French Open with a hamstring injury and her preparation has been far from ideal this year, with only three matches under her belt on clay after early defeats in Madrid and Rome.

She has never progressed beyond the third round in Paris, and said in Rome that she was still coming to grips with her least-favorite surface.

“In a weird way, I’m kind of glad I’m not winning,” Osaka had said. “I know that sounds a bit off, but I feel like I’m learning a lot.”

Men’s fourth seed Dominic Thiem, who stitched together a run to the semi-finals in Madrid before falling early in Rome and Lyon, is also in action against Spaniard Pablo Andujar.

Twice a finalist at Roland Garros, the Austrian will not meet one of the ‘Big Three’ – Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer – until the quarter-finals, being in the other half of the draw, but is more worried about his own form.

“I think the way I’m coming into the tournament, the way I also played the last weeks, the only thing I can focus on is the first rounds,” Thiem said. “I shouldn’t focus at all on who is in my quarter or even who is in my half.”

Greece’s Monte Carlo Masters and Lyon champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is seeded fifth, and Germany’s Madrid Masters winner Alexander Zverev, the sixth seed, are also in action, against Jeremy Chardy and qualifier Oscar Otte, respectively.

Third seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who beat Australian world number one Ash Barty in the Madrid showpiece, faces Croatian qualifier Ana Konjuh, who reached the final in Belgrade last week but retired with a hip injury.

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