Japanese superstar Naomi Osaka was on Sunday threatened with disqualification from the French Open if she persists with her controversial media boycott, officials said. “We have advised Naomi Osaka that should she continue to ignore her media obligations, she would be exposing herself to possible further code of conduct infringement consequences,” said a statement from the four Grand Slam tournaments after issuing the world number two with a $15,000 fine. “As might be expected, repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament.”
Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam title winner and sport’s highest-earning female athlete, was fined for refusing to hold a press conference after her opening 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) victory over Romanian world number 63 Patricia Maria Tig.
The 23-year-old had said on the eve of the tournament that she would refuse to carry out any media obligations, claiming news conferences are detrimental to her mental health.
She believes traditional post-match inquests are akin to “kicking people when they’re down”.
However, the four Grand Slam events — Wimbledon, the French, Australian and US Opens — issued a joint statement, saying they had written to Osaka “to check on her well-being and offer support”.
“She was also reminded of her obligations, the consequences of not meeting them and that rules should equally apply to all players.
“Naomi Osaka today chose not to honour her contractual media obligations. The Roland Garros referee has therefore issued her a $15,000 fine.”
After her match on Sunday, Osaka agreed only to a cursory on-court TV interview.
“For me, playing on clay is a work in progress,” said the reigning US and Australian Open champion on a sun-kissed Court Philippe Chatrier.
“Hopefully the more I play, the better I will become.”
And that was that from a player who has now strung together 15 successive Grand Slam match wins.
Osaka, who has never got past the third round in Paris, fired 39 winners but committed 35 unforced errors against Tig to set up a second round duel against another Romanian player, Ana Bogdan.
– ‘Honour commitments’ –
The Grand Slam heads also said Osaka’s refusal to take part in media duties put opponents at a disadvantage.
“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.”
If Osaka was to be disqualified, it would be as infamous as Novak Djokovic’s default at last year’s US Open where the world number was booted out for hitting a line judge with a ball.
Osaka’s defiant stand overshadowed the opening day of the 2021 French Open.
Petra Kvitova, a semi-finalist in 2012 and 2020, saved a match point before seeing off Belgian qualifier Greet Minnen, 6-7 (3/7), 7-6 (7-5), 6-1.
The 11th seeded Czech, a two-time Wimbledon champion, blitzed 43 winners but served up 11 double faults against her 125th-ranked opponent.
Fresh from her first career clay court title in Madrid, Belarusian third seed Aryna Sabalenka eased past Croatian qualifier Ana Konjuh 6-4, 6-3.
Three-time major winner Angelique Kerber, the German 26th seed and twice a quarter-finalist in Paris, lost to Ukrainian qualifier Anhelina Kalinina 6-2, 6-4.
The win was a 14th successive win for the world number 139 Kalinina across all tournaments.
Later Sunday, men’s world number five Stefanos Tsitsipas faces home player Jeremy Chardy.
The Greek is widely tipped as a potential champion should 13-time winner Rafael Nadal or world number one Novak Djokovic falter.
Tsitsipas has already captured the Monte Carlo Masters and Lyon titles on clay this season.
– Crowd limits –
Also in action Sunday is fourth seed Dominic Thiem, the 2018 and 2019 runner-up to Nadal.
US Open champion Thiem faces Spanish veteran Pablo Andujar who defeated Roger Federer on clay in Geneva last week.
In total, just over 5,000 spectators a day will be admitted at the Roland Garros site until June 8 under Covid-19 limits.
That figure will then rise to more than 13,000 a day thanks to the government’s decision to raise fan numbers to a 65 percent limit of capacity.
The main setback for organisers, however, is that nine of their scheduled 10 evening sessions — an innovation for 2021 — will be played behind closed doors.
A government curfew of 9pm will not be lifted until June 9.
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