The four Grand Slams on Tuesday pledged to “create meaningful improvements” to their tournaments in an effort to avoid a repeat of the Naomi Osaka crisis which hit the French Open.
Japan’s world number two Osaka withdrew from Roland Garros after she was fined and threatened with expulsion for refusing to carry out press conferences which she claims are detrimental to her mental health.
“We intend to work alongside the players, the tours, the media and the broader tennis community to create meaningful improvements,” a statement by the French, US and Australian Opens and Wimbledon said.
When Osaka was fined $15,000 on Sunday for not appearing at a news conference following her first round win, Grand Slam chiefs warned her of future consequences.
“Repeat violations attract tougher sanctions including default from the tournament and the trigger of a major offence investigation that could lead to more substantial fines and future Grand Slam suspensions,” they said.
On Tuesday, the four Slams said they “empathise with the unique pressures players face”.
However, they added: “Change should come through the lens of maintaining a fair playing field, regardless of ranking or status.”
The Herald said Federer could play in Dubai after Doha but would then take a training break.
Federer’s withdrawal is a blow to organizers of the Miami tournament, who were forced to cancel last year’s event as Covid-19 chaos left sport in North America at a standstill.
The pandemic has already impacted the 2021 calendar, delaying the Australian Open and forcing the Indian Wells tournament in California — the traditional lead-in to the Miami Open — out of its usual slot in March.
Miami is still expected to feature a strong field despite Federer’s withdrawal, with world number one Novak Djokovic and 20-time Grand Slam-winner Rafael Nadal confirmed for the men’s draw.
Serena Williams and newly minted Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka are also slated to appear in the women’s draw.
Naomi Osaka, who swept to her fourth Grand Slam title in as many major finals with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Jennifer Brady on Saturday, has made a rapid and at times uncomfortable climb to the top.
The 23-year-old’s zen-like mentality and increased gravitas on and off the court have elevated her alongside Serena Williams to being one of the most recognisable female athletes on the planet.
But it is her unceasing politeness away from the battlefield, coupled with the on-court steel that runs through all champions, that makes her stand apart.
“Do you like to be called Jenny or Jennifer?” she almost timidly asked Brady before embarking on her winner’s speech on Saturday.
It was typical of Osaka, who also gave a deferential bow to Williams after knocking out her idol and 23-time Grand Slam champion in the semi-final.
Osaka will rise to number two in the world when the new rankings are released next week after a polished campaign which will reinforce the belief that she has taken over as the new queen of tennis.
It’s a far cry from a year ago when a rattled Osaka felt the strain of expectations as her Australian Open title defense fell apart with a shock loss to a 15-year-old Coco Gauff in the third round.
“She looked very nervous to me, she was under pressure, and she only looked like that because she was not expressing her feelings,” her coach Wim Fissette said.
Weeks later, Osaka was embarrassed as she won just three games against Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo in a Fed Cup tie.
“There’s just a lot of stuff that happened there, surrounding that time, that it really made me think a lot about my life,” she said.
“What is the reason, I am playing tennis to prove stuff to other people or am I playing to have fun because I enjoy it.”
But things turned during the pandemic when Osaka gained a new perspective and became a vocal leader in the fight against racial injustice in the United States.
Her increased presence as a campaigner for social justice has fuelled Osaka on court and she now possesses a 21-match unbeaten streak after Saturday’s final, a run that included winning last year’s US Open title for the second time.
‘A lot of doubts’
“I think the thing that I’m most proud of is now mentally strong I’ve become,” she said.
“I used to be really up and down. For me, I had a lot of doubts in myself.
“I think, the quarantine process and seeing everything that’s going on in the world, for me it put a lot into perspective.”
Once painfully shy and uncomfortable in the spotlight, Osaka used her growing stature to weigh in on controversial topics at Melbourne Park, even condemning ex-Tokyo Olympics boss Yoshiro Mori for sexist comments.
Osaka has become the world’s richest female athlete, overtaking Williams, but she’s maintained a humble and respectful attitude amid her rise to stardom.
Born on October 16, 1997, in, Osaka, Japan, a year later her family moved to the United States.
Her Haitian father Leonard met and married her mother Tamaki when he decamped to Japan from New York to study.
Now based in Florida, Osaka has dual Japanese-American citizenship.
Osaka developed into a big-stage player after making her Grand Slam debut at the 2016 Australian Open.
It took a few years to find her feet before she stunned Williams with a straight-sets victory in a controversial 2018 US Open final and backed that up with a triumph at Melbourne Park just a few months later.
Osaka, at just 21, powered to world number one but she felt unfulfilled.
“I think that also put a lot of pressure on me because I just felt in a way it was me against the world,” she said.
It led to a difficult period where she felt burdened by expectations until heeding a more relaxed demeanour.
And she now has the tennis world at her feet.
“I used to weigh my entire existence on if I won or lost a tennis match,” she said.
The Australian Open will allow 50 percent capacity at Rod Laver Arena, the centre court, from Thursday after state authorities eased a five-day coronavirus lockdown, organisers of the Grand Slam tennis tournament said.
“We look forward to welcoming fans back to the Australian Open for the next four days and to finishing the event safely and on a high,” tournament director Craig Tiley said in a statement.
A maximum of 7,477 fans will be allowed at each of the day and night sessions from Thursday, Tiley said.
The announcement comes ahead of the five-day state-wide lockdown ending at midnight on Wednesday with state health authorities expressing confidence the snap restrictions had been enough to contain a Coronavirus outbreak.
“Last week we had our first real experience of live sport with fans in the stands and the atmosphere was electric,” said Tiley.
The restrictions were ordered last Friday after a small cluster of the UK coronavirus variant emerged.
The Australian Open’s Melbourne Park complex had been operating on the capacity of a restricted ground of 30,000 spectators per day in the first week of the tournament before the snap lockdown.
The five-day stay-at-home order now appears to have contained the outbreak, which centred on a hotel near Melbourne airport, to 19 people.
Novak Djokovic clocked his 300th Grand Slam win Sunday, playing through pain from an abdominal injury that nearly forced him to pull out of the Australian Open to oust Milos Raonic and make the quarter-finals.
The world number one took to the court despite suggesting his title defence might be over on Friday after sustaining the injury in a thrilling five-setter against Taylor Fritz.
He battled on against giant Canadian Raonic on a fan-less Rod Laver Arena, grinding through 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 to set up a clash with sixth seed Alexander Zverev.
Naomi Osaka arrived the court for her opening US Open game on Monday wearing a face mask bearing the name of Breonna Taylor, the African-American nurse shot dead by police who raided her apartment in Kentucky in March.
By the time the US Open fortnight is over, Osaka says she hopes to have honored the memory of six other victims of racial injustice.
“For me, I just want to spread awareness,” Osaka said after her 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 win over Japanese compatriot Misaki Doi.
“I’m aware that tennis is watched all over the world, and maybe there is someone that doesn’t know Breonna Taylor’s story.
“Maybe they’ll Google it or something. For me, just spreading awareness. I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interesting or interested they’ll become in it.”
Osaka, of Haitian and Japanese heritage, said she has six other masks bearing the names of black people killed by police that she hoped to wear throughout the Grand Slam.
“I have seven and it’s quite sad that seven is not enough for the amount of names,” Osaka said.
“Hopefully I’ll get to the finals and you’ll see all of them.”
The 22-year-old fourth seed has spoken out repeatedly in the wake of the protests that swept the United States following the death of George Floyd during a confrontation with police in May.
Osaka said she is increasingly comfortable in her role as athlete activist.
“A lot of people ask me if I feel more stressed out ever since I started speaking out more,” she said Monday.
“To be honest, not really. At this point, like, if you don’t like me, it is what it is. You know what I mean?”
Last week Osaka threatened to withdraw from her semi-final at the Western & Southern Open following the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Wisconsin.
She later reversed that decision and played, but was forced to withdraw from Saturday’s final because of a nagging problem with her left hamstring.
There was little sign of the injury hampering her against Doi on Monday, although Osaka revealed after her win she was not at full fitness.
“Physically I feel like I could be better,” she said. “But I can’t complain because I won the match.
“For me, it’s somewhat interesting. I feel like every Grand Slam I play is a different story. You almost feel completely different at every Grand Slam.
“I think it’s just a matter of getting through it. I’m just going to see what happens.”
World number one Rafael Nadal insisted Tuesday that matching or beating Roger Federer’s record 20 Grand Slam titles is not important and he was “super happy” with his tennis career regardless.
The Spaniard launched his campaign to equal the Swiss great’s mark by dropping just five games in a 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 annihilation of Bolivian Hugo Dellien in the Australian Open first round.
The Mallorcan, the first man to be world number one in three different decades, can not only match his great rival’s achievement but also become the first man in the Open era to win all four Majors at least twice if he lifts the trophy again at Melbourne Park.
It is a big ask for the 33-year-old Nadal, who has only won the title once before in Australia, against a tearful Federer in 2009, with four runner-up finishes to his name.
“I don’t care about 20 or 15 or 16. I just care about trying to keep going, keep enjoying my tennis career,” said Nadal.
“It’s not like 20 is the number that I need to reach. If I reach 20, fantastic. If I reach 21, better. If I reach 19, super happy about all the things that I did in my tennis career.
“I am very satisfied with my tennis career because I give it all most of the time,” he added. “That’s the only thing that matters.”
The Australian Open is the only Major Nadal has failed to win more than once, having claimed 12 titles at Roland Garros, four at the US Open and two at Wimbledon.
He has been a finalist in Melbourne four times since winning but has struggled to get over the line, something that baffles him.
“I have been a break up twice in the fifth set and I lost. Another time I have been injured in a final, of course, against a great opponent,” he said on why he had not been able to convert in Australia.
Nadal, in a pink sleeveless shirt and matching shoes, was in total charge against the world number 73 Dellien, storming to a 5-0 lead in the opening set before the Bolivian held serve, then against the odds broke, before the Spaniard served out the set.
Underdog Dellien was broken in the sixth game of the second set but hit back again to break Nadal for the second time in the match before the top seed again rallied to restore control with some sizzling forehands down the line.
Nadal raced 3-0 up in the third set as his physicality and power shone through.
The Spaniard next plays either Argentine Federico Delbonis or Portugal’s Joao Sousa and said he never looked further ahead than the next match.
“I think about Sousa or Delbonis, that’s all. I think about my practice tomorrow, try to follow up the level of tennis that I played in the third set,” he said.
“That should be my main goal. I need to play at my highest level if I want to keep going in the tournament.
“If I am able to reach my highest level, that’s the thing that I have to worry about.
“If I am able to play at my highest level, normally I am able to produce some good chances.
Daniil Medvedev said the energy of the New York crowd helped instigate the stunning fightback that saw him fall just short against Rafael Nadal in a five-set classic in Sunday’s US Open final.
The Russian fifth seed dropped the first two sets to Nadal in his first Grand Slam final but charged back to force a decider, almost erasing a double break deficit in the fifth set before going down 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4.
“First of all I just want to congratulate Rafa, 19th Grand Slam title is something unbelievable, outrageous,” Medvedev said.
“What you’ve done for tennis in general, it’s amazing for our sport. Thank you and congrats again.”
Medvedev has experienced a love-hate relationship with fans at Flushing Meadows after an obscene gesture in a third-round match prompted loud boos, to which the Russian later responded with a taunt of his own.
But the 23-year-old won the crowd over during his run to the final, where he was attempting to become the youngest Grand Slam champion since Juan Martin del Potro won the US Open in 2009.
“To be honest in my mind, I was already thinking, ‘What do I say in the speech, it’s going to be in 20 minutes,” Medvedev recalled, having fallen two sets behind to Nadal.
“I was like I have to fight for every ball, and it went further but it didn’t go my way. I know earlier in the tournament I said a bad thing, and now it’s a good thing.
“It’s because of your energy that I’m here in the final. I mean, tonight is going to always be in my mind because I played in the biggest court in the tennis world.
“You guys were pushing me to prolong this match because you want to see more tennis. Because of you guys, I was fighting like hell.
“It’s electric. You were booing me for a reason. I can also change because I am a human being and I can make mistakes. Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart.”