Naomi Osaka's sister says clay-court criticism prompted media boycott: 'Her confidence was completely shattered'
Hours after Naomi Osaka was fined $15,000 and warned of stiffer consequences for shirking French Open media responsibilities, her older sister shed light on what prompted the tennis phenom's press boycott.
Mari Osaka posted a message on Reddit Sunday afternoon explaining that Naomi's refusal to speak with media started with criticism over her performance on clay surfaces. Mari, a retired tennis player, deleted the post after it gained traction on social media, but not before The New York Times verified with Naomi Osaka's team that it was written by Mari.
Mari on Naomi Osaka: 'She was not ok mentally'
Confirmed with Naomi Osaka’s team that this Reddit post is indeed from her older sister, Mari Osaka. Gives unique insight amid Naomi’s silence.
(Worth noting, probably, that Osaka did not do press after her loss in Rome to Pegula, from what I’ve heard, as she wasn’t requested.) pic.twitter.com/VtYT57bOYS
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) May 30, 2021
"Naomi mentioned to me before the tournament that a family member had come up to her and remarked that she's bad at clay," Mari wrote. "At every press conference she's told she's had a bad record on clay. When she lost in Rome r1 she was not ok mentally.
"Her confidence was completely shattered and I think that everyone's remarks and opinions have gotten to her head and she herself believed that she was bad on clay."
Osaka won her opening-round match at the French Open on Sunday against Patricia Maria Tig in straight sets. After the match, she skipped her media obligations as she wrote that she would in a statement last week, citing mental health concerns.
Mari wrote that Naomi's refusal to speak with media was a form of "protecting her mind."
"So her solution was to block everything out," Mari continued. "No talking to people who is (sic) going to put doubt in her mind. She's protecting her mind hence why it's called mental health."
Mari apparently came to regret the post, though, as she later removed her statement and replaced it with a shorter one in which she said "I f***ed up" and lamented that people were interpreting that her mental health justification is an attempt at gamesmanship. She apologized to her sister for a post she said "probably made the situation worse" before deleting the entire post.
Naomi Osaka responds to critics
While her sister was trying to defend her on Reddit, Naomi Osaka was responding to the backlash she was facing on Twitter. Her 10-word tweet appeared to imply the criticism she is facing is "a lack of understanding."
anger is a lack of understanding. change makes people uncomfortable.
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) May 30, 2021
Will Naomi Osaka speak to media after warning from Grand Slams?
Mari inaccurately wrote in her Reddit post that "Tennis players don't get paid to do press conferences." Sunday's fine statement signed by the lead executives from each of tennis' four Grand Slams reminded Osaka that meeting with media is a "contractual obligation" and warned of more significant consequences moving forward, including potential suspension from Grand Slam play.
"We have advised Naomi Osaka that should she continue to ignore her media obligations during the tournament, she would be exposing herself to possible further Code of Conduct infringement consequences.
"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 offense investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions (Code of Conduct article IV A.3.)."
According to the statement, Osaka didn't respond when tournament organizers reached "to check on her well-being and offer support." Tournament organizers described media obligations as a "core element of the Grand Slam regulations" and wrote that Osaka skipping hers provides an unfair competitive advantage.
"As a sport there is nothing more important than ensuring no player has an unfair advantage over another, which unfortunately is the case in this situation if one player refuses to dedicate time to participate in media commitments while the others all honour their commitments," the statement continued.
Osaka, ranked No. 2 in the world, will take on Romania's Ana Bogdan in Round 2 on Wednesday, where she opened as a -350 betting favorite. The tennis world will be focused on Osaka during and after the match.
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