Rafael Nadal said on Friday that without the media “we will not be the athletes that we are today” as Naomi Osaka became increasingly isolated over her decision to boycott all French Open press commitments.
Japanese star Osaka caused a stir at Roland Garros by announcing that she will refuse to carry out any press activity at the tournament, claiming she fears the effect of them on her mental health.
The four-time major winner believes the traditional post-match inquests are akin to “kicking people when they are down”.
It’s a phenomenal error: French tennis head slams Naomi Osaka’s decision to boycott press conference
Nadal, the 13-time French Open champion, said that even though he respected Osaka’s decision, media coverage has driven the success of the sport.
“I understand her, but for me without the press, without the people who are writing the news and achievements that we are having around the world probably we will not be the athletes that we are today,” said Nadal, a 20-time major winner.
“We won’t have the recognition that we have around the world, and we will not be that popular.”
Osaka, the world number two, risks fines of up to $20,000 for skipping news conferences at the French Open which starts on Sunday.
The 23-year-old’s closest rival and 2019 French Open winner Ashleigh Barty said carrying out media duties is part and parcel of the job.
“We know what we sign up for as professional tennis players,” the 25-year-old Australian said.
“I can’t really comment on what Naomi is feeling or her decisions she makes. At times press conferences are hard of course but it’s also not something that bothers me. I’ve never had problems answering questions. It’s not something that’s ever fazed me too much. And it certainly doesn’t keep me up at night what I say and hear or what you guys ask me.”
French Tennis Federation president Gilles Moretton lambasted Osaka.
“It is a phenomenal mistake and it shows to what extent it is necessary to have strong governance,” he said Thursday. “What is happening is not, in my opinion, acceptable. It is tennis we want to promote.”
Defending champion Iga Swiatek, who is close to Osaka, said she is happy to speak to the press.
“It’s important because not everybody is a professional athlete and not everybody knows what we are dealing with on court. It’s good to speak about that,” said the Pole who turns 20 on Monday.
However, she also believes it’s crucial to have a support system to “separate you from hate or something”.
World No 2 Daniil Medvedev could be forgiven for having a rocky relationship with the media thanks to a French Open record for four matches played, four matches lost.
“I try always to come to press conference bad mood or good mood,” said the 25-year-old Russian on Friday. “And I feel like even sometimes in the bad mood I can be in a better mood after talking to you guys.”