PARIS – The French Open organizers defended their “pragmatic” approach to dealing with four-time major champion Naomi Osaka during the tournament, saying they tried to get in touch with her several times on Sunday before she decided to retire because she needed a mental break.
“We did it right,” said French tennis association president Gilles Moretton at a press conference on the last day of the tournament.
Osaka pulled out of Roland Garros after imposing a fine of $ 15,000 for skipping the press conference after her first-round win and threatened with disqualification or suspension from all four Grand Slam tournaments, if she continues to avoid the media.
She said she was scared before speaking to the media and announced that she was suffering from depression.
“What we did together at the slams, we had to do it,” said Moretton. “We made the right choice, even if you think we shouldn’t say anything … to Naomi.”
Amelie Oudea-Castera, director general of the French tennis federation, said the organizers had “really tried several times to get in touch with Naomi in various ways, including on the practice grounds, including in writing.”
Oudea-Castera said organizers wrote to Osaka privately before the four Grand Slam tournaments publicly fined her and warned of possible additional penalties if she continued her plan not to attend press conferences.
The slams merely reminded Osaka of the rules, Oudea-Castera said.
“There is a special book that explains that. And if you regularly fail to meet your obligations without making specific statements, you expose yourself to bankruptcy or a more permanent sanction,” said Oudea-Castera. “We wanted her to know because explaining it to her was a way to protect her.”
Tennis players must attend press conferences upon request. Expect a maximum fine of $ 20,000 for breaking the rules.
“With the $ 15,000 fine, you noticed that we didn’t want to maximize that fine,” said Oudea-Castera. “We purposely wanted to be 15 because we wanted to send a message that we would not go into insolvency immediately. We wanted a gradual escalation if she continues to fail to meet her commitments.”
Oudea-Castera acknowledged that tennis officials “can do better” at dealing with players’ mental health problems, adding that all four Grand Slams “will jointly take the initiative on this matter”.
Osaka, 23, said she would take time to exercise. Moretton said former French professional player Nathalie Dechy received a positive update from Osaka, which ranks 2nd.
“That’s the most important thing for us,” said Moretton.