The French Tennis Federation has made a “don’t mess with us” statement by putting Naomi Osaka first-up on centre court at Roland Garros after her press boycott announcement.
That’s according to Australian tennis great Todd Woodbridge, with Osaka facing the prospect of being the first star knocked out of the French Open if she doesn’t aim up.
Osaka will face world No.63 Patricia Maria Tig in her opening match. While it seems a certain victory, Osaka struggles on clay and is under heavy scrutiny due to her anti-media conference stance.
“She’s been put on first match, day one on Philippe-Chatrier and that is the French Federation saying, ‘Don’t mess with us. If you don’t want to do well, don’t want to play, we’ll get you out of there’,” Woodbridge said on Sports Sunday.
“So we’ll see if she actually does do a little bit of press after this first round match. It will be interesting, because a lot of the players have come out in the opposite view of what Naomi has, which I think is the right way to approach it.”
Roland Garros’ 13-time champion Rafael Nadal was just one player to disagree with Osaka’s press boycott, which she clamed was related to preserving her mental health.
Woodbridge said that most players appreciated that media was essential for the exposure and popularity of tennis. He said that Osaka’s stance seemed misguided.
“I can understand that she doesn’t like doing it, because I lost just about every week, so I hated going to the press!” Woodbridge said, tongue-in-cheek and clearly referring more to his singles exploits.
“I actually had a deal with the media people: one hour, you had to give me, before you came near me when I lost. Then I would do everything I had to and they learned to do that. They actually work all those personalities well.
“I think Rafa Nadal said it best, he said we wouldn’t be in this privileged position, to have all of what we have, if we didn’t have the media there to make us bigger stars. So Rafa, I think, was right on the money and I think quite a few of the others have followed suit with that line.
“I don’t think for Naomi, she wasn’t in the room with enough people before she put that last statement out, one suspects.”
Four-time major winner Osaka has a slim chance to reclaim the world No.1 ranking from Australia’s Ash Barty, the 2019 Roland Garros champion, at the French Open.
The world No.2 trails Barty by 2714 ranking points and is defending only 130 points, against 2000 for the Australian. Osaka would need to make the final and hope that Barty is ousted before the semis; though on form, the Australian seems more likely to make a deep run.
“It’s been a good lead-up, she’s the favourite as far as I’m concerned; everybody,” Woodbridge said of Barty.
“She’s won more matches on clay than any other player, so the form is fantastic.”
Barty won the Stuttgart title, lost the Madrid final, then suffered a minor arm injury during a Rome quarter-final against Coco Gauff, causing her to retire while leading the match. She says that she is recovered and ready for Roland Garros, having gone to the south of France to prepare.
“We were at a very small club down there which for me was perfect,” Barty told reporters in Paris, per the WTA.
“I felt like we were able to do exactly what we wanted on court, we were able to control loads and make sure my body was feeling 100 per cent.
“To be able to just control that week was really important, making sure that we had arrived here feeling great and we have. I feel like I’m ready to play. I’m excited to be back. But I think having that break kind of down south was beautiful in a sense where it was quiet.”
Barty did not defend her French Open title last year, having missed almost the entire season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For us this week, it’s a clean slate, a fresh start,” Barty told reporters.
“It’s hard to take too much from that tournament back in 2019 but we are very excited to be back and have another opportunity to play here at Roland Garros. It’s a special place. It holds a very special place in my heart and we are very excited to start again.”
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