'Slap in the face': Uproar over 'unacceptable' Naomi Osaka act

·Sports Editor
·4-min read
Sam Groth and Naomi Osaka, pictured here in 2021.
Sam Groth has taken aim at Naomi Osaka. Image: Getty

Naomi Osaka's refusal to do press conferences at the upcoming French Open has divided the sporting world, with former Aussie star Sam Groth and French Tennis Federation President Gilles Moretton publicly condemning her decision.

Osaka stunned fans and commentators on Thursday when she announced she won't be conducting any press conferences at Roland Garros in order to protect her mental health.

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The World No.2 said she hoped to donate any fines she accrued to mental health charities.

But according to Groth, Osaka's decision is a "slap in the face to a sport that has given her everything."

While Groth can understand Osaka's point about taking mental health seriously, he believes she has an obligation to promote the sport to the world.

"Deeming herself able to simply opt out of a requirement every player on tour is obligated to do is, quite simply, a joke," Groth wrote for the Herald Sun.

"Her announcement, to me, is misguided and fraught with hypocrisy. You don’t want to speak with a group of journalists who follow the tour around the world, yet you’re happy to post images to millions of faceless followers on social media platforms?

"Naomi is showing a total disregard for the sport that has made her the superstar she is. Players of her standing have a responsibility to promote their sport and do what they can to protect its future."

Moretton also had no sympathy for Osaka.

"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."

Brazilian Indy Car driver Tony Kanaan concurred with Moretton.

"I find this day relaxing instead of focusing on the race," Kanaan said at the Indy 500 media day. 

"Some people hate the media. I think it's silly. It's not about you, the sport will survive. Somebody else will do those interviews."

Gilles Moretton, pictured here at the Rolex Paris Masters in 2019.
Gilles Moretton at the Rolex Paris Masters in 2019. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Athletes express support for Naomi Osaka

According to the grand slam rule book, players can be fined up to $US20,000 ($A25,833) for skipping a media conference, but Osaka said she was ready to accept any sanction.

Osaka hoped the "considerable amount" that she expected to forfeit would go towards a mental health charity.

Retired Fomula One champion Nico Rosberg, former tennis player Zina Garrison and British world champion sprinter Dina Asher-Smith were among those to support Osaka's call.

"Naomi Osaka has a point, but it is two sides to this coin," Garrison tweeted.

"She will be able to pay for the fine most athletes can't. Love you are bring awareness to mental health in sports. Come together with all sides and work on a solution now."

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Rosberg told Reuters on Thursday: "I think it's quite a ballsy step again from her. I can understand because when I was on my way to the championship... I switched everything off. No media, no news, no emails."

Sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz, who works with French Open champion Iga Swiatek, said she appreciated Osaka's concern about facing questions after a defeat.

"I absolutely understand the decision in terms of when a player loses a match, and tennis is such a specific sport because at the end of the tournament only one person does not lose," she said.

"It's tough emotionally to cope with it; it is one of the challenges that tennis brings. It's sometimes overwhelming."

Japanese instant noodle-maker Nissin, one of Osaka's top sponsors, said in a statement: "As a sponsor, we respect the feelings and will of the athletes.

"However, we are not in a position to comment on their individual opinions and actions, so we will refrain from doing so."

with AAP

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