Viewed objectively, Osaka’s loss to Anisimova was no upset. Osaka, a former No. 1 from Japan, is one of the biggest stars in sports and the highest-paid female athlete in the world by a large margin. But she has not been a dominant force on tour for well over a year now and has never been a dominant force on the French Open’s clay surface.
For now, she remains a one-surface wonder. All four of Osaka’s Grand Slam singles titles were won on hardcourts: two at the Australian Open and two at the U.S. Open. She has never reached even the final of a clay-court event on tour and has never been past the third round of the French Open. Her career record in singles on hardcourts is 133-56, but on clay it is 21-17 and on grass just 11-9. She said afterward that she was leaning toward not playing next month at Wimbledon, which is played on grass courts, now that the WTA Tour had stripped the event of ranking points in response to Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players.
“I feel like if I play Wimbledon without points, it’s more like an exhibition,” Osaka said. “I know this isn’t true, right? But my brain just like feels that way. Whenever I think like something is like an exhibition, I just can’t go at it 100 percent.”
Last year, struggling on and off court, she withdrew before the second round of the French Open because of a standoff with tournament officials over her refusal to appear at mandatory post-match news conferences. She cited her mental health as the reason for skipping them for as long as she was in the tournament but did not engage with tournament officials directly before announcing her decision or in the aftermath when they sought further explanation. Faced with a lack of background, they fined her $15,000 for missing her first-round news conference and made it clear that she risked being defaulted from the tournament and future Grand Slam tournaments if she continued to refuse to comply with the media requirements.
It was a surprisingly hard line, and Osaka chose to withdraw rather than escalate the situation, revealing as she announced her withdrawal via social media that she had experienced long bouts of depression since winning her first major title at the 2018 U.S. Open.
L’Affaire Osaka at Roland Garros sparked a wide debate on mental health issues in sports and has led to the women’s tour providing even more mental health resources for its players on and off site. Osaka has said that she would like to have handled the situation differently. The French Open has changed some of its leadership, with the longtime tournament director Guy Forget replaced this year by Amélie Mauresmo, a former No. 1 player on the women’s tour who has made players’ mental health a priority. Under her leadership, the French Open has reduced access to player areas for reporters this year. The tournament also is providing mental health experts on site to assist players.
Mauresmo made an effort to greet Osaka on and off court when she returned to Roland Garros this year. Osaka arrived unseeded and having played just two singles matches on clay all year after withdrawing from the Italian Open this month because of her left Achilles’ tendon injury.