If Naomi Osaka is playing chicken with Wimbledon, it appears she’s winning.
The bosses of the upcoming grass-court Grand Slam, which begins June 28, have extended several very public olive branches to Osaka in recent days and hinted at compromising over the tournament’s media obligations – seemingly in an effort to get the tennis superstar to commit to playing in London.
“We have spoken to her [Osaka’s] team in the last few weeks,” All England Club chief executive Sally Bolton told the BBC on Thursday, per Reuters. “So yes, we’re certainly remaining engaged with Naomi’s team, as we are with all players. We have started a consultation. Of course, that consultation needs to include not just the players, but the media and all of those engaged in that space.”
The previous day, tournament director Jamie Baker said he had informed Osaka’s team that Wimbledon organizers were “completely open for any discussions.”
Osaka, 23, withdrew from the French Open in a swirl of controversy in late May while revealing she suffers from anxiety and depression. She faced backlash and was threatened with expulsion from the French over her stated intention to skip mandatory post-match news conferences.
The conciliatory messages come after Wimbledon had co-signed the initial statement from the sport’s four majors scolding Osaka for not attending her press conference after a first-round win at the French Open. They also were a part of a softer press release after her withdrawal that said, in part, “Together as a community we will continue to improve the player experience at our tournaments, including as it relates to media.”
Osaka has followed through on her plans to “take some time away from the court” after the drama in Paris. The world No. 2 pulled out of a grass-court warmup tournament in Berlin last week, either passively or actively heightening the sense that she might not return in time for Wimbledon.
The tournament surely wants her star wattage on its manicured lawns, perhaps even more so after witnessing a French Open singles final between Barbora Krejcikova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. On the men’s side, twenty-time major winner Rafael Nadal withdrew from the Wimbledon field on Thursday.
“I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media. I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can,” Osaka wrote on social media in announcing her withdrawal from the French Open. “So here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious, so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences. I announced it preemptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that.
“When the time is right, I really want to work with the Tour to discuss ways we can make things better for the players, press and fans.”