'Never fazed me': Ash Barty weighs in on Naomi Osaka debate

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Ash Barty says she understands Naomi Osaka's stance on press conferences, but says she's never had a problem with the media, win or lose. Pictures: Getty Images
Ash Barty says she understands Naomi Osaka's stance on press conferences, but says she's never had a problem with the media, win or lose. Pictures: Getty Images

Australian superstar Ash Barty and French Open maestro Rafael Nadal have weighed in on the controversy surrounding Naomi Osaka's refusal to speak with press at Roland Garros.

The hugely popular world No.2 declared she would not speak to the media throughout the grand slam, suggesting post-match press conferences amounted to 'kicking people when they are down' and adding players shouldn't be required to attend if their mental health was at risk.

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Osaka risks being fined as much as $20,000 over her stance, which has riled French Open organisers and led to significant backlash from sections of the media, as well as criticism from the public.

The 23-year-old has since written to the tournament organisers, explaining her decision as part of an attempt to begin a broader conversation about the expectations placed on athletes and the mental toll that comes with it.

However her fellow players, while supportive of Osaka's general points about mental health, stopped short of backing her point blank refusal to speak with press.

When asked about Osaka's stance, a characteristically to-the-point Barty said such requirements were simply part of tennis.

“We know what we sign up for as professional tennis players,” Barty said.

“I can’t really comment on what Naomi is feeling or her decisions she makes. At times press conferences are hard of course but it’s also not something that bothers me.

“I’ve never had problems answering questions. It’s not something that’s ever fazed me too much.

“And it certainly doesn’t keep me up at night what I say and hear or what you guys ask me.”

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Nadal, a 13-time French Open winner, said he understood Osaka's position but largely disagreed on the basis that world tennis wouldn't enjoy the interest it does without the press.

“I understand her, but for me 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,” he said.

“We won’t have the recognition that we have around the world, and we will not be that popular.”

Naomi Osaka media stance divides tennis world

Tennis writer Jon Wertheim has revealed the email Naomi Osaka sent to French Open bosses further explaining her decision to boycott press conferences at Roland Garros.

Osaka said she believed the nature of some of the questions puts an undue burden on players' mental health and would happily accept the fines that come her way as a result.

The furore took a further twist on Thursday when American tennis writer Wertheim leaked an email that Osaka had sent to French Open organisers.

In the email, Osaka explains that her decision is “nothing against the French Open or even the press members themselves”.

Naomi Osaka last week announced she would not be doing any media interviews throughout the French Open. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
Naomi Osaka last week announced she would not be doing any media interviews throughout the French Open. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

“This stance is against the system requiring athletes to be forced to do press on occasions when they are suffering from mental health. I believe it is archaic and in need of reform,” she wrote.

“After this tournament I want to work with the Tours and the governing bodies to figure out how we best compromise to change the system.

“Unfortunately for Roland Garros this has happened during your tournament, which is just pure coincidence and nothing personal.

"I have nothing but respect for your event."

However French Tennis Federation (FFT) President Gilles Moretton isn't impressed.

"It's a deep regret, for you journalists, for her personally and for tennis in general," Moretton said.

"I think this is a phenomenal mistake. It shows to what extent today (the need) that there is strong governance in tennis.

"What is happening there is, in my opinion, not acceptable. We will stick to the laws and rules for penalties and fines."

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