Roland-Garros Defends Its Handling Of Osaka Situation

Roland Garros (photo: Jean-Charles Caslot/FFT)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, June 16, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The organizers of Roland-Garros said they did everything possible to protect Naomi Osaka while admitting they wanted to do more to support players in the future.

During a press conference before the men’s championship Sunday, tournament organizers suggested they had handled the Osaka situation in the best possible manner.

At the beginning of the Paris fortnight, Osaka withdrew after her first-round victory, citing her refusal to participate in mandatory post-match press conferences for mental health reasons, to protect herself from “doubts” that might arise from journalists’ questions.

“We have to be sure that we want everyone to be happy and enjoy these tournaments,” Guy Forget, tournament director, said. “When we realized [the problem], we tried to contact her, to take to her agent, but we couldn’t. Her agent didn’t know how to react, and she didn’t know how to react. Her agent didn’t know how to react because he didn’t know himself how she felt. Gradually, when she was ready to play, all the other players were wondering what she was going to do and how she was going to react. It was very difficult to know how we should handle the situation.”

Forget said the $15,000 fine that was levied toward Osaka was “very symbolic, because if any player doesn’t come in front of you guys to express her feelings, whether you win or lose, I think could be perceived as a lack of respect. So, the fine was just to send a signal to the other players that you can’t you have to face the media.

“On top of that, what really mattered is the way she felt, and we didn’t know. All the Grand Slams stick together, which was I think very important.

“We were kind of relieved when she made these comments a few days ago saying that she feels better and she kind of regretted the way it all happened. And we all did.

“We look forward to see[ing] her again here next year, hopefully in Wimbledon in a few weeks, to see her performing in a great shape on the court.”

Gilles Moretton, president of the French Tennis Federation (FFT), said: “What we all did together with the slam, we had to do it. We need to have equity between all the players. … I think we did the right choice, even if you feel like we shouldn’t say anything, maybe not saying anything regarding Naomi. I think we did it the right way.

“Now, we want only one thing: she will recover as soon as possible and maybe she will be very in good shape and ready to talk to you at Wimbledon. We’ll be very happy for that.”

Amélie Oudéa-Castera, director general of the FFT, described the process that resulted in Osaka being sanctioned.

“We really tried to engage with Naomi several times, several ways, including on the practice courts, including in writing.

“The common statement [from the Grand Slams] was preceded by a personal letter that we wrote to her without sending that to anyone. We kept that for her. Our only purpose was to explain to her the consequences she was exposing herself to by refusing to commit to her media obligations.

“In her first message on social networks, she only mentioned fines. She said, ‘I will get a considerable amount of fines and I will give that to charity, etc.’

“What we wanted her to have in mind was fines were not the only consequence she was exposing herself to. So, we had to remind [her of] the results of the game. … When you regularly default your obligations without giving specific explanations in particular, you expose yourself to a default or more permanent sanction. We wanted her to know because it was a way to protect her to explain that to her.

“On the $15,000 fine, you noticed we did not want to put that fine at the maximum. Maximum was $20,000. On purpose, we only wanted to be at $15,000 because we wanted to send a message that we wouldn’t go to a default right away. We wanted to have a progressive escalation should she continue not to commit to her obligations.

“I think we really cared for her. We really tried to engage. We were pragmatic in the way we handled the progressive approach to sanctions. We were very much aligned with all the slams to make sure there was not a Roland Garros position, etc. We took care of her since she withdrew from the tournament. It was a very sensitive and difficult situation, but we believe we really treated that with respect, with care.

“And yes, of course, on mental health, we can do better. This is part of the roadmap we have with the other slams. We will take the initiative on the matter together.”

bett1Open: Azarenka makes up for lost time on grass with win

Playing on grass for the first time in two years, 16th-ranked Victoria Azarenka advanced to the second round of the bett1Open with a 6-4, 7-6 (2) victory over 129th-ranked German wild card Andrea Petkovic Tuesday afternoon on Steff-Graf Stadion in Berlin.

The No. 7 seed Azarenka hit eight aces and 30 winners against Petkovic. She saved three set points in the second set, and took advantage of four breaks of her opponent’s serve as well as 36 unforced errors. The 16th-ranked Azarenka outpointed Petkovic 88-73. Next, the Belarusian will face No. 27 Angelique Kerber of Germany, who beat 81st-ranked qualifier Misaki Doi of Japan, 6-2, 6-1.

“I was sometimes dropping my level a little bit and not being aggressive enough,” Azarenka said during an on-court interview. “I think I was putting myself into too much of a dangerous situation when I could have been more disciplined. However, I’m glad I was able to pull through in the second set because it was really important. Sometimes, when the match isn’t going that great it’s good to mentally stay tough.”

When Azarenka was asked to describe the challenge of going from clay to grass, she said: “It’s quite challenging because there’s such a quick turnaround. However, it’s a really good way of getting right into the match and finding the rhythm in a more difficult situation.”

Also, No. 6 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain reached the second round with a 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 45 Sorana Cirstea of Romania. The World No. 13 Muguruza, whose only grass-court title came at Wimbledon in 2017, won 80 percent (24 of 30) of her first-serve points, hit 15 winners and broke Cirstea six times in 14 opportunities. She outpointed her opponent 72-52 to move into the second round against No. 21 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, who defeated No. 46 Shelby Rogers of the United States, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

“I’m very pleased,” Muguruza said. “You never know how it’s going to go your first match – especially on grass after two years. I’m very excited I won in two sets against Sorana. We’ve played many times. She’s always very difficult.”

Other Tuesday winners: qualifier Liudmila Samsonova of Russia beat the Czech Republic’s Marketa Vondrousova, 6-4, 7-6 (6); Veronika Kudermetova of Russia upset No. 8 seed Karolina Muchova of Czech Republic, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-2, in back of six aces and 50 winners; Jessica Pegula of the United States won by retirement over American qualifier Hailey Baptiste; and Petra Martic of Croatia defeated qualifier Asia Muhammad of the United States, 7-6 (0), 4-6, 6-3.

No. 1 seed Aryna Sabalenka will play her first match of the tournament against Madison Keys of the United States on Wednesday.

• No. 2 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia became the top remaining seed in the WTA 250 Viking Classic Birmingham in Birmingham, Great Britain, following her 6-4, 6-2 win over American qualifier Caty McNally on Tuesday. The 24th-ranked Jabeur’s win on Ann Jones Centre Court came after No. 1 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium was upset by No. 72 Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia, 7-6 (5), 5-7 (5), 7-6 (4), in a match that lasted three hours and nine minutes. No. 4 seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia and No. 6 seed Zhang Shuai of China also advanced.

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“Quotable …”

Bett1Open crowd favorite Angelique Kerber of Germany on switching from clay to grass: “I’m so happy that the clay-court season is over. I’m happy that the grass-court season has started. The goal is to have a lot of matches before going to Wimbledon. I’m here playing against the best players. I think the draw is so good [this year]. I’m enjoying playing at home [in Germany]. I’m looking forward to playing my next match [against Victoria Azarenka].”

Kerber hit 23 winners and outpointed Misaki Doi 63-37 en route to her first-round win in Berlin.

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