Naomi Osaka has become the first big-name player to suggest they will skip Wimbledon due to the decision to remove ranking points amid an increasingly toxic split over the controversial decision.
In what would be a huge blow for organizers, the former world No1 says she is “leaning towards” opting out of next month’s championship because of the WTA’s and ATP’s move to strip Wimbledon of ranking points in a direct retaliation to the tournament’s ban of Russian and Belarusian players following the invasion of Ukraine.
Novak Djokovic, the men’s world No 1, appears set to play but also backed the ATP stance, saying: “I’m glad that players got together with ATP, and showed the grand slam that when there is a mistake happening, and there was from the Wimbledon side, then we have to show that there is going to be consequences.”
With Wimbledon effectively downgraded into an exhibition tournament, the fallout has brought to the boil player frustrations with both the organizers and tennis’s governing bodies, with Osaka the first major name to break ranks and admit she will consider turning her attentions elsewhere.
“I would say the decision is kind of affecting my mentality going into grass, like I’m not 100 percent sure if I’m going to go there,” Osaka said, speaking after her first-round defeat by American 27th-seed Amanda Anisimova at Roland Garros.
“I would love to go just to get some experience on the grass court, but at the same time, for me, it’s kind of – I do not want to say pointless, no pun intended – but I’m the type of player that gets motivated by seeing my ranking go up, stuff like that. I think the intention was really good, but the execution is kind of all over the place. “
Four-time major champion Osaka, 24, has never progressed past the third round at Wimbledon and on Monday described feeling “scared” of playing on grass due to a knee injury she picked up slipping on the surface in 2018. She admitted that the latest development has almost put her off the idea of traveling to SW19 entirely this year.
“I’m not sure why, but I feel like if I play Wimbledon without points, it’s more like an exhibition. I know this is not true, right? But my brain just feels that way. Whenever I think something is like an exhibition, I just can’t go at it 100 per cent.
“I did not even make my decision yet, but I’m leaning more towards not playing given the current circumstances, but that might change. I do want to rack up more experience on the grass, and I know that the Berlin tournament is giving out points, so that would be a really good opportunity for me. If I do not end up playing on grass this year, I really want to go hard on the hard court swing, which is my favorite. have to have some meetings about it. “
Osaka was playing for the first time in Paris after her withdrawal for mental health issues last year, amid a row over her decision to opt out of press conferences. Though she expressed being wary of how the crowd would receive her here, they were fully on side throughout her disappointing early exit.
It was a dreadful draw for Osaka though, facing American Anisimova who reached the semi-finals here in 2019 and beat her in a three-set thriller at the Australian Open in January.
This was a tie worthy of a prime-time slot on any schedule, as the match of the day and arguably of the round. Instead they played out the high-level encounter at 11am on Court Suzanne Lenglen, contending with drizzly, slower and colder conditions and a smaller crowd than it deserved.
The scheduling decision was taken at the behest of the Japanese television market, but this was not the only questionable timing of the day. World No 1 Iga Swiatek also played the earliest slot on Philippe Chartrier Court, and nine of the 12 Monday morning matches – when punters were still slowly filtering into the grounds – were played by women.
Scheduling aside, Osaka’s serve was what let her down against Anisimova’s hard-hitting intensity. She made only 45 per cent of her first attempts. “F — ing first serve,” the usually serene Osaka whispered to herself, ahead of one of eight double faults. Three of the four times her serve was broken by Anisimova were through those errors, revealing a fragility that remains in her game as she continues her comeback from long stretches off the match-court.
There were positives. Her movement looked stronger than it has previously on clay, especially considering she is still recovering from an Achilles problem, which she said she took a painkiller for pre-match.
But it was her post-match comments on Monday which left the lasting impression.
It showed the apparent split between players disgruntled by missing out on points and those on the ATP and WTA player councils, who had some input into the decision to remove points from Wimbledon.
Two-time major champion and WTA player council member Victoria Azarenka, who is Belarusian and will miss Wimbledon, was cagey on the subject on Monday. But she was unconvinced by suggestions players will skip Wimbledon altogether. “I have no problem talking with anybody and explaining behind the scenes what’s going on,” she said. “From my experience on the tour, people say a lot of things, they do different. So I’m not going to take anybody’s word for it, and we will see what happens.”
Osaka is not alone in her doubts though. Her comments followed British No 1 Cameron Norrie’s suggestion that a number of players may consider missing Wimbledon for similar reasons. Former Wimbledon semi-finalist John Isner was doubtful on Sunday, saying he was “not that stoked about Wimbledon”, while France’s Lucas Pouille, who is ranked 162, called it a huge “injustice” that ranking points will not be on offer.
He told L’Equipe: “I was in no way associated with: [this] decision which I do not agree with. I understand the frustration of the Russian players and the injustice of it, I know they have nothing to do with it, but now there is an injustice for 240 players instead of 12. We can not all pay the consequences. I do not know how the players are going to react.
“It was never a unanimous decision, that I know. We do not even know if there was a vote. In any case, all the players I have spoken to are against it. It will still remove the fervor from the tournament.
“I had initially decided not to play Wimbledon before saying to myself: ‘No, it is still a Grand Slam, you are going to go’ and I signed up for the grass-court tournaments. But I think that I will not go . ”
Told that there was still a Grand Slam title to compete for, Pouille added: “Of course, that will always be something fantastic. But it is not just about who wins. Anyone who comes out of qualifying and wins three rounds, they could have got into the top 100 with that result. Yes, you will find yourself with a nice check but with nothing to validate their sporting performance. ”