Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks ahead to the latest in tennis. Today, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews day 4 of the 2021 French Open.
Just like that, Naomi Osaka’s 2021 French Open has ended before it ever really got the chance to start.
On day 2 of this year’s Roland-Garros, the Japanese announced that she is withdrawing from the event effective immediately. The reason? Well you can read the entire thing in the embedded tweet below, but essentially Osaka is leaving the French Open because she had become a distraction and never wanted to be one.
— NaomiOsaka????? (@naomiosaka) May 31, 2021
How exactly had she become a distraction? We’re told she had become a distraction by opening up about her struggles with mental health and announcing that she wouldn’t do any press availabilities for the duration of this French Open.
Gosh, really? This rather seems to be noble enough, no? A little bit like how you, reading this at home, like to sometimes go in your superior’s office at work and ask for a 1) raise, 2) new office chair, 3) general change in your role, or any number of different things, here was Osaka requesting something from the sport in general.
What happened next?
In turn, despite her standing as one of a handful of the biggest stars of the sport worldwide, she was met mostly with derision and silence.
When she forewent her press availability after her first round win, she was fined $15,000. Next came a statement from the organizers of the four Grand Slam tournaments, which mentioned that either Osaka could end her charade right now or be subjected to harsher fines and punishment. That she could start speaking to reporters again or face the real possibility of forfeiting a Grand Slam.
They released a second, better statement yesterday. You can read it in full here, but by then it had been too late.
It was too late because by then Osaka had been called an arrogant spoiled brat in a column by Piers Morgan, who was likely just looking in the mirror when he wrote that. She had been called out by Billie Jean King, who apparently believes that if she had to suffer in the past then everyone else has to as well. A good number of journalists and fans alike had told Osaka off for, essentially, wanting better than an asinine and inconsequential post-match press conference. (Look at this; there’s gotta be more to writing about tennis than asking this question.)
There had also been the stupid tweet from the official Roland-Garros Twitter account over the weekend, a tweet that was quickly deleted but long live screenshots. It was in poor taste and tone-deaf, if not downright insulting.
Meanwhile… deleted of course pic.twitter.com/RJ217qSLsE
— CBG (@RealCBG) May 31, 2021
What about the other players?
Ultimately, few fellow players beyond Serena Williams spoke out in clear support of Osaka. It’s a clear sign that tennis still has a long ways to go before understanding and accepting mental health. It’s a clear sign, sadly, that not many things have changed since Jennifer Capriati.
Maybe the worst offender was French Tennis Federation president Gilles Moretton, who met reporters a little after Osaka’s withdrawal to make a vague and safe statement before leaving the press conference without taking questions. Do as I say, not as I do indeed!
Osaka working at changing things to feel better should not be something that so many actively fight against. It’s a myopic view to think that she shouldn’t be awarded special treatment, because who’s to say we shouldn’t simply change post-match press conferences to begin with? That she shouldn’t be given preferential treatment as if the entire fabric of tennis, which rewards better players with easier draws and a bigger piece of the financial pie, isn’t built around preferential treatment.
Because if Osaka can change things for herself, then maybe she can change things for everyone else too. In the end, that’s undeniably something worth fighting for.
Day 4 preview
That all said, here are the three matches we’ve decided to highlight for day 4 of the French Open. As usual, the entire day’s slate of tennis is found here.
Court Simonne-Mathieu: Daria Kasatkina vs Belinda Bencic  (First match of the day)
It feels ludicrous, considering that she turned professional in 2012, but Belinda Bencic is still only 24 years old. She is still a somewhat young and promising player on the WTA, with promising but uneven results. Here in Paris, after Bianca Andreescu’s stunning loss in the first round, the occasion is prime for Bencic to accomplish great things. It’s by no means a definite, but who knows?
Court 7: Kamil Majchrzak vs Casper Ruud  (Second match of the day)
This matchup may not look like much sitting there on a computer screen, but we’ll venture that it’s underrated. You see, there aren’t many players who’ve enjoyed a better and more fruitful clay court run than Norwegian Casper Ruud. A timid debut in Marbella begat three semifinals nods in a row before a triumph in Geneva against Denis Shapovalov in the final. Ruud is a, erm, rude customer on the red clay. Tune in.
Court 6: Leylah Fernandez vs Madison Keys  (Third match of the day)
Here’s a purely homer pick. At 18 years old, Leylah Fernandez is the most recent product of Canada’s ongoing golden generation. She already has a singles title to her name, at the Monterrey Open, and has made the second round here. Her run in Paris has already been a success, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hope for more.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG