Rafael Nadal and Ash Barty have dropped truth bombs on Naomi Osaka following her divisive French Open boycott.
Some of the biggest names in tennis have casually given the World No. 2 a reality check over her stunning decision to snub reporters for the entire tournament.
Both stars delivered their messages as delicately as possible, but the blunt statements show Osaka is now completely offside with the rest of the locker room.
Rafael Nadal Saturday (AEST) that without the media “we will not be the athletes that we are today” as Osaka became increasingly isolated over her decision to boycott all French Open press commitments.
The highest-earning female athlete on the planet caused a stir at Roland Garros by announcing that she will refuse to carry out any media activity at the tournament, claiming she fears the effect of them on her and fellow players’ mental health.
The four-time major winner believes the traditional post-match inquests are akin to “kicking people when they are down”.
Osaka on Friday suffered a fierce backlash to her public stand — and now the biggest names in tennis have joined the crowd.
Osaka risks fines of up to $20,000 for skipping news conferences at the French Open which starts on Sunday.
Ashleigh Barty is back at the scene of her greatest triumph.Source:Getty Images
The 23-year-old’s closest rival and 2019 French Open winner Barty said carrying out media duties is part and parcel of the job.
“We know what we sign up for as professional tennis players,” the 25-year-old Australian said.
“I can’t really comment on what Naomi is feeling or her decisions she makes. At times press conferences are hard of course but it’s also not something that bothers me.
“I’ve never had problems answering questions. It’s not something that’s ever fazed me too much.
“And it certainly doesn’t keep me up at night what I say and hear or what you guys ask me.”
Nadal, the 13-time French Open champion, said that even though he respected Osaka’s decision, media coverage has driven the success of the sport.
Japan’s Naomi Osaka isn’t backing down.Source:AFP
“I understand her, but for me without the press, without the people who are writing the news and achievements that we are having around the world probably we will not be the athletes that we are today,” said Nadal, a 20-time major winner.
“We won’t have the recognition that we have around the world, and we will not be that popular.”
French Tennis Federation (FFT) president Gilles Moretton lambasted Osaka. “It is a phenomenal mistake and it shows to what extent it is necessary to have strong governance,” he said Thursday.
“What is happening is not, in my opinion, acceptable. It is tennis we want to promote.” Defending champion Iga Swiatek, who is close to Osaka, said she is happy to speak to the press.
“It’s important because not everybody is a professional athlete and not everybody knows what we are dealing with on court. It’s good to speak about that,” said the Pole who turns 20 on Monday.
However, she also believes it’s crucial to have a support system to “separate you from hate or something”.
ATP world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, who has plenty of reasons to be unfriendly to the press as a result of his explosive attitude on court, also said it’s part of the job.
“I try always to come to press conference bad mood or good mood,” said the 25-year-old Russian on Friday.
“And I feel like even sometimes in the bad mood I can be in a better mood after talking to you guys.”
Plot thickens as email revealed
Osaka also sent an email to French Open organisers explaining her decision. The email was revealed by Sports Illustrated tennis reporter Jon Wertheim on social media.
In it, Osaka thanks organisers for their hard work in ensuring the grand slam can go ahead and says her decision is “nothing against the French Open or even the press members themselves”.
“This stance is against the system requiring athletes to be forced to do press on occasions when they are suffering from mental health. I believe it is archaic and in need of reform,” Osaka wrote.
“After this tournament I want to work with the Tours and the governing bodies to figure out how we best compromise to change the system.
“Unfortunately for Roland Garros this has happened during your tournament, which is just pure coincidence and nothing personal. I have nothing but respect for your event.”
The world No. 2 is taking a stand.Source:AFP
Under tennis tournament rules, all players are required to hold press conferences after each match. They also perform media duties before a tournament.
Osaka regularly packs out media rooms because of her standing in the sport and her charisma.
She fields questions in Japanese and English and is regarded as one of the world’s most marketable stars.
She added on Wednesday: “I believe the whole situation (of news conferences) is kicking a person while they are down and I don’t understand the reasoning behind it.”
French Open tournament director Guy Forget said he was stunned by Osaka’s decision which he found at odds with a tournament still facing organisational challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic.
“As the tournament progresses, we will see how she behaves. I don’t know what her attitude will be in the coming days, but it doesn’t send a very positive message,” said Forget.
Men’s world No. 1 Novak Djokovic said press conferences are part of the job for tennis players.
“I understand the press conferences sometimes can be very unpleasant, and it’s not something you enjoy always — especially if you lose a match,” he said.
“But it is part of the sport and part of your life on the tour, and this is something we will have to do, otherwise we will get fined.”
Osaka has yet to get beyond the third round at Roland Garros.
— with AFP
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