STARNBERG, May 4, 2021 (by Daniel Brenes)
You cannot talk about the 2021 French Open without discussing the sudden departure of the No. 2 female tennis player, Naomi Osaka. Before the tournament began, the 23-year-old Japanese native was vocal in her desire to refrain from giving any post-match press conferences, citing her mental health as the reason.
“We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m not just going to subject myself to people that doubt me,” she wrote across social media platforms.
She was threatened with fines and a suspension if she didn’t attend her pressers but made good on her promise after defeating her first-round opponent, Romanian Patricia Maria Tig. However, she did engage in an on-court interview immediately after her win and in front of the hundreds who were allowed entry due to Covid protocols.
“I’m very glad that I won,” said Osaka, who decided to skip the French last year after winning her third Grand Slam title at the 2020 U.S. Open.
“It’s a very beautiful court. I’ve only played two matches here; one was before the roof and one is right now. Hopefully, I’ll keep it going.”
Osaka had played at Roland-Garros three times before but has failed to move beyond the third round. When asked how she felt after her opening round victory she stated, “I would say it’s a work in progress. Hopefully, the more I play, the better I’ll get.”
However, she never got to meet her second-round opponent, Ana Bogdan, after deciding to withdraw once a $15,000 fine was levied for her failure to meet with the press. The threat of suspension looms if she continues to snub her post-match presser obligations.
The Grand Slam organizations including Tennis Australia, the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC), and the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) said in a joint statement they had collectively communicated with Osaka “to check on her well-being and offer support, underline their commitment to all athletes’ well-being and suggest dialog on the issues.”
“She was also reminded of her obligations, the consequences of not meeting them, and that rules should equally apply to all players,” the organizations said, adding that, “A core element of the Grand Slam regulations is the responsibility of the players to engage with the media, whatever the result of their match, a responsibility which players take for the benefit of the sport, the fans and for themselves.”
And while the Grand Slam organizations have apparently offered an olive branch to the talented young superstar, they are not backing down from their intentions to mete out punishments if she continues to eschew her media obligations.
“As might be expected, repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament (Code of Conduct article III T.) and the trigger of a major offence investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions (Code of Conduct article IV A.3.).”
Men’s French Favorites
According to the tennis odds at all of the best online sportsbooks, we see Rafael Nadal as the betting favorite and it is not surprising considering the 35-year-old Spaniard has been the most dominating player ever to grace the clay at Roland-Garros. At odds of -125, before the tournament began, the King of Clay defeated his first-round opponent, Alexei Popyrin, in straight sets and will now entertain France’s Richard Gasquet in the second round.
Although the 13-time French Open champion is the oddsmakers’ choice, he did not enter as the No.1 seed despite hoisting the La Coupe des Mousquetaires aloft only eight months ago. The usual suspects, Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev, both drew the first and second seeds, respectively.
But the prediction here is that Nadal is simply too overpowering on clay, even for the likes of Djokovic, whom he defeated in last year’s final, 6-0, 6-2, 7-5. There is a reason why Rafa was the prohibitive favorite by the oddsmakers and he appears poised for his 14th French crown.
Women’s French Favorites
Many believe the No. 1 seed, Ashleigh Barty will take home the hardware but we will point to the No. 3 seed in the tournament, Aryna Sabalenka, as our choice to win the French this year. It would be a mildly surprising outcome but the native of Belarus is ready to take the next step as an elite Grand Slam title winner. Before the tournament, the oddsmakers installed her as the third choice at +500 behind Barty and defending champion, Iga Swiatek.
Sabalenka won her first clay-court title at the Mutua Madrid Open only last month and immediately before that was impressive in reaching the finals at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart before falling to Ashleigh Barty, 6-3, 0-6, 3-6. She is in fine form to make a deep run at the French. Keep an eye out for this rising star not only at the French but in Grand Slams to come.