WTA Says Athletes Have 'Responsibility' to Speak to Media After Naomi Osaka Forgoes French Open Press

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) said Friday that athletes have a "responsibility" to speak to the media after Naomi Osaka, the world's highest-paid female athlete and the No. 2-ranked tennis player in the world, declared she will not participate in press conferences at the French Open.

Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion from Japan, wrote Wednesday on Twitter that "people have no regard" for the mental health of athletes and "this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one." The tournament fines players up to $20,000 for not attending press conferences when asked to.

"The WTA welcomes a dialogue with Naomi (and all players) to discuss possible approaches that can help support an athlete as they manage any concerns related to mental health, while also allowing us to deliver upon our responsibilities to the fans and public," a WTA spokeswoman said in an email to the Associated Press.

"Professional athletes have a responsibility to their sport and their fans to speak to the media surrounding their competition, allowing them the opportunity to share their perspective and tell their story," the statement added.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Tennis Player Naomi Osaka of Japan
Naomi Osaka of Japan in action against Angelique Kerber of Germany during practice on Court Simonne Mathieu in preparation for the 2021 French Open Tennis Tournament at Roland Garros on May 28, 2021, in Paris, France. The Woman's Tennis Association said athletes have a "responsibility" to speak to the media after Osaka said she will not participate in press conferences at the French Open. Tim Clayton/Corbis/Getty Images

Osaka's declaration that she won't participate in news conferences during the French Open was a natural, if slightly awkward, topic for discussion on a tournament media day already awkward by nature because it was conducted via video conference.

"I understand why she does it. I respect her opinion," Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2-ranked man in tennis, said Friday at Roland Garros, echoing a common sentiment as a parade of the game's top players—but not, of course, Osaka—spent time taking questions from reporters in a pre-competition ritual two days before action begins.

"Me, I have no problems" dealing with journalists, Medvedev added as he responded to a query from a journalist in one of the afternoon's navel-gazing moments. "I try always to come to a press conference, bad mood or good mood. And I feel like, even sometimes in the bad mood, I can be in a better mood after talking to you guys."

Other players, including 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal and top-ranked woman Ash Barty, and the women's professional tennis tour said speaking to reporters is a requirement in their line of work.

"Without the press...probably we will not be the athletes that we are today," Nadal said. "We (aren't) going to have the recognition that we have around the world, and we will not be that popular, no?"

Osaka said in her 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 every athlete in every sport does regularly.

"There's a lot of truth in what she said, but then again, there's also the expectations and the commitments that come with being a professional athlete, as well, and this is one," said Johanna Konta, a three-time major semifinalist ranked 20th, "so it's about finding...the right balance."

The fines at Grand Slam tournaments for skipping news conferences are not much of a disincentive for Osaka, since she is highly paid, who framed it as a mental health issue and said she hopes whatever comes out of her prize money would be donated to a charity in that area.

"We're often sat there and asked questions that we've been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I'm just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me," Osaka also wrote.

The French Tennis Federation did not respond to a request for comment.

"In my opinion, press is kind of part of the job. We know what we sign up for as professional tennis players....At times, press conference are hard, of course, but it's also not something that bothers me....For me, personally, doesn't keep me up at night what I say and hear or what you guys ask me. So I try and make it a little bit lighter and have a bit of fun with you guys," said Barty, the 2019 French Open champion.

"For me, it's a little bit different, but I can't comment on (Osaka) personally for what she's going through," Barty said, "so I suppose you'll have to ask her that next time you chat to her."

Who knows when that will be?

Naomi Osaka at the Italian Open
Naomi Osaka of Japan reacts after losing a point against Jessica Pegula of the United States during their match at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome on May 12, 2021. Alessandra Tarantino/AP Photo