Osaka’s decision not to do any press during the French Open has been the talk of tennis.
Osaka, the highest-earning female sports star in history, announced on the eve of the French Open that she would not be taking part in any press during the tournament because of mental health concerns.
Writing on social media, the world number two said players being forced to do press conferences after defeats is “kicking a person while they’re down”.
Osaka’s decision has not gone down well with the president of the French Tennis Federation, Gilles Moretton, who called it a “phenomenal error”, and it has also put the WTA in a difficult position.
The organisation said in a statement: “Mental health is of the utmost importance to the WTA and, for that matter, every individual person. We have a team of professionals and a support system in place that look after our athletes’ mental and emotional health and well-being.
“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 WTA’s stance was echoed by leading players at the media day at Roland Garros on Friday, where Osaka was, of course, a notable omission.
World number one Ashleigh Barty said: “I think 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 conferences are hard, of course, but it’s also not something that bothers me. I’ve never had problems answering questions or being completely honest with you guys.”
Teenager Iga Swiatek was thrust into the global spotlight when she surged through the field to win her first grand slam title on the Parisian clay in October.
She admitted she initially found that a difficult adjustment, saying: “Everybody started treating me differently. My life changed totally. Finding a balance and really being able to enjoy the victory after such a chaotic time, it was really, really nice.”
On Osaka’s stance, the Pole added: “I personally feel that this is part of the job. And of course, you know, talking to press after we lost, it’s not the most enjoyable thing to do. But it’s good to find the balance and find the distance to all of that.
“I feel that media is really important because they are giving us a platform to talk about our lives and our perspective. And it’s also 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.”
Rafael Nadal who will bid for a 14th title at Roland Garros, has been under the microscope for the better part of 20 years.
He said: “I respect her, of course, as an athlete and her personality. I respect her decision. We as sports people, we need to be ready to accept the questions and to try to produce an answer.
“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. We are not going to have the recognition that we have around the world, and we will not be that popular.”
Much of the attention after Thursday’s draw focused on Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer all being placed in the same half of the draw.
But the same was true of the women’s draw where Barty and Swiatek, the two favourites for the title, are also in the same half.
Both are defending champions in a way, with Barty choosing not to travel to Paris last year, instead staying at home in Australia.
“Honestly it feels like a lifetime ago,” she said. “I think coming back to the site here at Roland Garros is obviously pretty special, pretty cool to be able to walk onto Chatrier and have so many memories come flooding back.”
Barty retired during her quarter-final in Rome earlier this month with an arm injury, but said: “I’m feeling good. I’m feeling ready to play. I think it was an important decision for us to make to make sure that we arrived at this tournament being 100 per cent physically.”