HL readers know our subject selection is idiosyncratic and pursued only when our take is, if not unique, not what you’re getting virtually any other place. This post like the previous 138 checks the second box, but not the first. It was commissioned by several fellow tennis nut subscribers.
The first self-evident truth in The Matter of Naomi Osaka was that it was predictable bordering on certain, and certainly predicted in our post of September 12, 2018, “A Young Version of Serena Williams Defeats Her in The U.S. Open Final” HL 59. More about that later.
Second truth is that the four major so-called “Grand Slam” tournaments violated U.S., U.K., E.U. and Australian antitrust laws by agreeing not to compete in the way they otherwise would or could have in the worldwide market for professional tennis tournaments. That market has several types of consumers, including players, fans and advertisers. When the French Tennis Federation (“FFT”) announced it would impose escalating monetary fines on Osaka each time she failed to appear at post-match press avails – as she announced on Twitter just before Roland Garros 2021 began, the American, British and Aussie federations that own and host their slams could have competed for the patronage, business and favor of players, fans and advertisers by offering different rules about press avails.
Such competitive offerings could have been less than mandatory as was the French federation’s or perhaps even stricter and more punitive. But no, instead they agreed to uniform rules and in concert issued a threat, including possible imposition of the tennis death penalty – barring non-complying players from all four slams.
Mixing metaphors from another sport, both the WTA and ATP were given slam dunk class actions against the federations for conspiring, agreeing and restraining trade. These women’s and men’s player associations and individual players have undoubtedly been contacted by members of the plaintiffs’ bar on three continents and on the Sceptered Isle.
Self-evident truth trois from this year’s Slam Francais: Osaka and her handlers need a good PR/media consultant. They composed Naomi’s truly awful and badly timed pre-tournament tweet. And upon her withdrawal from the tournament, after her first match victory and a $15K fine, they took clear and unequivocal shots at Serena and the U.S. Open tennis crowd. In Osaka’s statement she said that she has suffered “long bouts of depression” since the 2018 U.S. Open final.
As detailed in HL 59, Naomi won that final with brilliant tennis which was unlikely to cause depression and soon was replicated when she won the Aussie Open several months later. But her performance became an afterthought due to Serena’s meltdown when receiving the type of ass-whup she had administered to other players hundreds of times. The front page (not front sports page) NY Times coverage of the match managed a headline without Osaka’s name. And after Williams extended tantrum, play resumed and Osaka toed the line at 5-4 with the opportunity to serve out the match. The world’s largest tennis crowd prayed and screamed for her to double fault, collapse and maybe break a limb. Yet she served out the championship with three powerful and perfectly placed serves. Osaka’s statement when withdrawing from RG 2021 clearly blamed Serena and her crowd for the bouts of depression over the last three years.
Truth three circles around to the first, the likelihood that truly unfair and unfortunate situations common in sports and entertainment would cause, or in this case exacerbate, real and continuing emotional distress in this brilliant athlete. While the crowd’s and Serena’s deportment were singularly deplorable, Osaka was already well on her way. Prior to that final, her post-match comments were virtually limited to “thank you [s]for watching the match” delivered in a blank stare mantra. Responses to other simple questions were given in a mechanical monotone, with answers that were slightly off, slightly inaccurate and grammatically challenged for a then 20-year-old raised and educated in the states and as natively intelligent as Osaka obviously is. What is the cause of all this pain and distress, before, during and after the 2018 U.S. Open tournament assigned culpability in Osaka’s statement? We really don’t know and aren’t a shrink. But like real ones who regularly diagnose Donald Trump on MSNBC we can and have speculated. That occurred in HL 59. Please click, read and please react to that one and this post. Merci beaucoup.
 Two days before the tournament began, Osaka tweeted “Hey everyone. . . I’m writing this to say I’m not going to do any press during Roland Garros. I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one. . . I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me. . . if the organizations think that they can just keep saying ‘do press or your (sic) gonna be fined’ and continue to ignore the mental health of the athletes that are the centerpiece of their cooperation (sic?) then I just gotta laugh. Anyways I hope the considerable amount that I get fined for this will go towards a mental health charity.” Osaka was the highest compensated female athlete in 2020, earning some $55 million.