Naomi Osaka lets her tennis do the talking in first round but faces French Open expulsion over media boycott
Japanese star has opted to shun press conference duties and after being fined $15,000, could face more severe sanctions
Naomi Osaka got her French Open campaign up and running on Sunday with a straight sets win over Patricia Maria Tig, but the Japanese star's hopes of going much further in Paris could depend on her reversing her media boycott.
Osaka, the world No 2 and the biggest draw in women's tennis, announced in the lead-up to Roland Garros that she would not hold press conferences following her matches, citing the negative effects media interactions have had on her mental health.
So instead of Osaka's usual eloquent, engaging, and forthcoming thoughts on her matches, and indeed on wider and deeper subjects, fans will only hear cursory answers from generic on-court questions.
What was gleaned from her 6-4, 7-6 win over Romania's Tig was that Osaka's game on clay remains a "work in progress" and that she hopes to improve with more matches and as the tournament progresses.
"Hopefully the more I play, the better I will become," said the four-time Grand Slam champion on a sun-kissed Court Philippe Chatrier. "It's a beautiful court. I've only played two matches here, one before the roof and one now so hopefully I'll keep it going."
And that was that.
However, Osaka's continued refusal to engage with the press could prove more costly than just financial. She incurred a $15,000 fine for refusing to hold a press conference on Sunday – comparative peanuts for an athlete who made $55 million last year – but sanctions could extend to expulsion from the tournament.
"We have advised Naomi Osaka that should she continue to ignore her media obligations during the tournament, she would be exposing herself to possible further Code of Conduct infringement consequences," said a statement from the four Grand Slam tournaments.
"As might be expected, repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament."
Osaka has always been refreshingly open and honest. Fans will no doubt want to know if she believes she can replicate her hardcourt success from the US and Australian Opens on the Parisian clay. Or hear her latest stance on the Tokyo Olympics – she has previously expressed concern about the staging of the Games – with the opening ceremony fast approaching. Or any myriad topics on which the opinion of the world's top female athlete, and a leading social activist, holds weight.
Instead, for now at least, Osaka is letting her racquet do the talking.
While it started as a loud, booming roar as Osaka raced into a 5-2 lead behind her serve and dominant groundstrokes, it soon transformed into a casual natter, with the second seed doing just enough to get past world No 63 Tig.
Greater challenges are sure to await Osaka, who is yet to advance beyond the third round at the French Open, but it appears that her greatest battle in Paris will come off the court.
Thiem stunned in five-set epic
Soon after Osaka quietly advanced to the second round, Dominic Thiem was left stunned and speechless as the fourth seed let slip a two-set lead against Spanish veteran Pablo Andujar-Alba to crash out in the first round.
Thiem, a two-time finalist at Roland Garros, looked to be cruising into the second round when he led his world No 68 opponent 6-4, 7-5, but Andujar-Alba fought his way back to win the next two sets 6-3, 6-4.
The reigning US Open champion had lost his rhythm and as the errors continued to accumulate, Andujar-Alba grabbed the break in the first game of the decider. Thiem stopped the rot with an immediate break back and appeared to wrestle back the momentum, only for it to quickly disappear.
Andujar-Alba broke once again for 3-2 and held his nerve to seal a famous victory. It is the Spaniard's second significant win this month after beating Roger Federer at the Geneva Open in the Swiss great's first match back following a lengthy layoff.
"I am 35 years old and I don't know how much longer I am going to play, so this is very special," Andujar-Alba said. "I had to fight all the way to the very end."
Updated: May 30, 2021 08:21 PM