PARIS — Naomi Osaka skipped her postmatch news conference at the French Open on Sunday, as promised.
That didn’t mean she avoided a question about her problems succeeding on red clay.
Osaka returned to Roland Garros after skipping the trip last time, turning in a mistake-filled 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory over 63rd-ranked Patricia Maria Tig at Court Philippe Chatrier on Day 1 of the Grand Slam tournament. And after bypassing her news conference, she was fined $15,000.
After the 2020 French Open was pushed to a September start with a limit of 1,000 spectators per day because of the pandemic, things were closer to normal Sunday: It was a sun-kissed May day and more than 5,000 fans were permitted, with a delay of only a week this year because of COVID-19 concerns.
While not quite back to its packed pre-pandemic self, Roland Garros did bubble with cheers and tennis.
Other results perhaps were more newsworthy — three-time major champion Angelique Kerber’s third straight first-round loss in Paris, for example — but the No. 2-ranked Osaka’s actions after her match were of more interest.
That’s because she declared during the week that she won’t participate in news conferences in Paris — and she did not do a pre-tournament session with the media. What remained unclear was whether she would participate in the perfunctory exchange of pleasantries with on-court “interviewers” who lob softball questions so spectators can hear something from match winners.
As it turned out, Osaka did go ahead with that chat with former player Fabrice Santoro, who is hardly a journalist and kindly offered to help Osaka by carrying the flowers she was given by the tournament.
Santoro actually did raise the topic of the event’s surface, noting that Osaka’s Grand Slam titles have come only on hard courts.
She has won the Australian Open twice, including this year, and the US Open twice, including last year. But she never has been past the third round at the French Open.
“I would say it’s a work in progress,” Osaka said about her game on clay. “Hopefully the more I play, the better it will get.”
Osaka wrote in a Twitter post Wednesday that she was not going to participate in the standard back-and-forth with the media in Paris — the sort of thing athletes in various sports do as a matter of course. She framed it as a mental health issue, saying that it creates self-doubt to have to answer questions after a loss.
Osaka tweeted after her match on Sunday that: “anger is a lack of understanding. change makes people uncomfortable.”
anger is a lack of understanding. change makes people uncomfortable.
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) May 30, 2021
Players at Grand Slam tournaments are required to attend news conferences if requested to do so; refusing is punishable by fines of up to $20,000, which is not much of a big deal to Osaka, the world’s highest-earning female athlete thanks to endorsement deals totaling tens of millions of dollars.
The Grand Slam tournaments announced Osaka’s fine in a joint statement.
“Naomi Osaka today chose not to honour her contractual media obligations,” the statement said. “The Roland-Garros referee has therefore issued her a $15,000 fine, in keeping with article III H. of the Code of Conduct.”
The Grand Slam tournaments also noted that if Osaka continues to not speak to the media she could be subjected to escalated punishment.
“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.),” the tournaments said in their statement.
“It’s her own choice. I think she’s capable of making her own choices and obviously she will do always what’s best for her,” Tig said. “I think that’s what’s happening now. It’s her choice of doing what she feels is best for her.”
As for her impression of Osaka’s ability on clay, Tig offered this assessment: “If she wins, she’ll get used to it. She can play as good on clay as she plays on hard courts.”
Osaka showed how Sunday: controlling points with her attacking game. She won 31 of 35 points when her first serve landed in and accumulated 39 winners — more than twice as many as Tig’s 18.
Osaka next faces 102nd-ranked Ana Bogdan, who swept aside Italian qualifier Elisabetta Cocciaretto 6-1, 6-3.
The 23rd-seeded Madison Keys worked nearly until midnight to secure her 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory over Oceane Dodin. Keys, who missed the Australian Open in February after testing positive for COVID-19, took control of the match right away in the third set Sunday night, hitting an ace to hold in the first game, then breaking at love en route to a 5-0 lead.
The 2017 US Open runner-up and 2018 French Open semifinalist will face 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez of Canada in the second round.
The 26th-seeded Kerber, meanwhile, was beaten 6-2, 6-4 by Anhelina Kalinina, a qualifier from Ukraine ranked 139th and making her tournament debut.
Roland Garros thus remains the only Grand Slam title that Kerber hasn’t won: She was the champion at the Australian Open and US Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2018.
Another former Grand Slam champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, also bowed out in in Day 1, losing in three sets to two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka.
2019 Australian Open semifinalist and 2020 French Open quarterfinalist Danielle Collins also defeated Wang Xiyu 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.