On the eve of the tournament, the No. 2 ranked and seeded Naomi Osaka announced out of the blue that she would not be doing ANY press obligations, suggesting the fines she was willing to take be donated to a mental health charity.
It came seemingly out of nowhere, taking the WTA and the Roland Garros organisers completely by surprise.
The rest becomes a muddy history, from her sister’s posted and deleted Reddit post explaining her actions, to the rather heavy-handed response from the four slams regarding further sanctions and possible suspension from other Slams, it sadly culminated in Osaka’s withdrawal, citing depression and anxiety going back to the traumatic winning of her first US Open title in 2018.
Of course, the stance from the Slams softened but by now it was too late. It set a tone for the tournament barely before it had a chance to get going.
Osaka has been able to use her platform to good effect during the growing Black Lives Matter movement, but this one initially seemed to backfire, but it does give her a chance now to get the help she needs before she makes a return to the tour.
Could it have been handled better on all sides? Of course. Will it change immediately? Wimbledon is the only Slam not moderated by the excellent team who can judge when a player is in distress and needs the time to compose themselves. Perhaps by the time Osaka returns to defend both her US Open and Australian Open titles, some changes will be made.
Which brings us rather nicely to our second point. What Osaka’s original statement did was stir up an already unstable pot of vilification from fans who don’t really understand what happens in press conferences.
Players are not dragged kicking and screaming into press on a loss. Often players will come straight in to get this over and done with and be on their way – and yes they won’t have processed the loss, but they know they have to do it, IF REQUESTED.
This is key. Players are requested by press – either Win Only or Win-Lose. Players have asked for more time to compose themselves and every measure is taken to accommodate them. At a Slam though, players tend to see a lot more unfamiliar faces than they are used to seeing on the regular tour, and thus sometimes a repeat of questions they have answered many times before.
‘Oh but your questions are rubbish’ we often hear. But the post-match quotes are just that – they are quotes after the match. Those quotes appear in match reports, on the wires that sports-news desks around the world use.
More importantly, for small sites that do not enjoy privileged access to players and coaches, these are the only times those outlets get access.
It would be a tragedy if changes to how the press have access to players shuts out the smaller independent sites who cater for knowledgeable fans of the game.
In a tournament where we had two ‘defending’ women’s champions, the bottom half of the women’s draw very quickly became decimated with Osaka gone, and the same old bugbear that saw No. 3 seed Aryna Sabalenka stumble in the first week on the slower clay in Paris, it left Serena Williams as the only Top 10 player left in the draw as we approach the second week.
Is this her best chance for 24? There are plenty of young, handy players who are not afraid of anyone, not to mention Victoria Azarenka in her section of the draw as a possible quarter-finalist.
The men’s top half of the draw remains loaded with arguably the best male players of a generation still very much in the mix.
Novak Djokovic has looked imperious, as has Rafael Nadal, and it remains to be seen how well a match-shy Roger Federer will go although he has been realistic about his chances here. After a gruelling third round match, he has hinted he too may withdraw to prepare for the grass.
But the young’uns are coming, with Stefanos Tsitsipas looking in good form, and we know that Alexander Zverev has a Slam final in him.
Scattered seeds who did not make it to the third round
Probably the biggest surprise was Dominic Thiem, a two-time finalist who finally cracked the top coming back from behind to win his first Grand Slam title at the US Open. He has been open about how it has been hard for him to reset after achieving one of his life goals.
He said, after his first round exit: “It’s amazing to reach such a big goal, but at the same time, something is different after. As I said before the tournament, it’s a big learning process, and despite the loss, which hurts so much, I still hope I can bounce back stronger than before. But, well, right now I don’t know when the moment is coming.”
A few surprises in the first round with a smattering of Slam champions bowing out. Ashleigh Barty’s injury issues saw her even contemplating not taking to the court, as she now tries to race to get ready for the grass court season.
She said: “It’s heartbreaking. I mean, we have had such a brilliant clay court season, and to kind of get a little bit unlucky with timing more than anything to have something kind of acute happen over the weekend and just kind of run out of time against the clock is disappointing. It won’t take away the brilliant three months that we have had, as much as it hurts right now.”
Freak injury of the year has to go to Petra Kvitova, who rolled her ankle while doing her pos-match media obligations (damn those press people!).
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