Tour, players react to Osaka: Talking to media part of job

Sports

Naomi Osaka of Japan reacts after losing a point against Jessica Pegula of the United States during their match at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, Wednesday, May 12, 2021. Osaka lost against Pegula 7-6, 6-2. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Naomi Osaka’s declaration that she won’t participate in news conferences during the French Open was a natural, if slightly awkward, topic for discussion on a tournament media day already awkward by nature because it was conducted via video conference.

“I understand why she does it. I respect her opinion,” Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2-ranked man in tennis, said Friday at Roland Garros, echoing a common sentiment as a parade of the game’s top players — but not, of course, Osaka — spent time taking questions from reporters in a pre-competition ritual two days before action begins.

“Me, I have no problems” dealing with journalists, Medvedev added as he responded to a query from a journalist in one of the afternoon’s navel-gazing moments. “I try always to come to a press conference, bad mood or good mood. And I feel like, even sometimes in the bad mood, I can be in a better mood after talking to you guys.”

Other players, including 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal and top-ranked woman Ash Barty, and the women’s professional tennis tour said speaking to reporters is a requirement in their line of work.

“Without the press … probably we will not be the athletes that we are today,” Nadal said. “We (aren’t) going to have the recognition that we have around the world, and we will not be that popular, no?”

Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion who is ranked No. 2, said via a Twitter post Wednesday that she was not going to participate in the standard back-and-forth with the media in Paris — the sort of thing every athlete in every sport does regularly.

“There’s a lot of truth in what she said, but then again, there’s also the expectations and the commitments that come with being a professional athlete, as well, and this is one,” said Johanna Konta, a three-time major semifinalist ranked 20th, “so it’s about finding … the right balance.”

At Grand Slam tournaments, players are subject to fines of up to $20,000 for skipping news conferences if they are asked to speak and do not.

That’s not much of a disincentive for Osaka, the world’s highest-earning female athlete, who framed it as a mental health issue and said she hopes whatever comes out of her prize money would be donated to a charity in that area.

“We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me,” Osaka wrote.

On Friday, the WTA Tour reminded Osaka of her “responsibility” to interact with reporters.

A statement emailed to The Associated Press on Friday by a WTA spokeswoman and attributed to the tour read in part: “The WTA welcomes a dialogue with Naomi (and all players) to discuss possible approaches that can help support an athlete as they manage any concerns related to mental health, while also allowing us to deliver upon our responsibilities to the fans and public. Professional athletes have a responsibility to their sport and their fans to speak to the media surrounding their competition, allowing them the opportunity to share their perspective and tell their story.”

The French Tennis Federation did not respond to a request for comment.

“In my opinion, press is kind of part of the job. We know what we sign up for as professional tennis players. … At times, press conference are hard, of course, but it’s also not something that bothers me. … For me, personally, doesn’t keep me up at night what I say and hear or what you guys ask me. So I try and make it a little bit lighter and have a bit of fun with you guys,” said Barty, the 2019 French Open champion.

“For me, it’s a little bit different, but I can’t comment on (Osaka) personally for what she’s going through,” Barty said, “so I suppose you’ll have to ask her that next time you chat to her.”

Who knows when that will be?

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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