Federer vs. Osaka, a tale of two reactions

Roger Federer and Naomi Osaka
Roger Federer and Naomi Osaka
Illustration: AP

Roger Federer withdrew from the French Open yesterday, which put the tournament in an awkward spot. Federer has only played six matches in a year or so, thanks to the pandemic and double knee surgery and rehab. After a near four-hour match in the third round where he really had to slog through a tepid performance, and that’s being kind, Federer didn’t feel his body was up for more and he could set his rehab back. Which is his right of course, and the French Open itself released a very conciliatory statement.

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I’m one of the biggest Fed fans around, and he has to do what’s best for himself. Still, it’s hard not to wonder how this was handled and how Naomi Osaka’s attempts to take care of herself were treated so differently. Because if you ask yourself what’s the bigger offense to the tournament, the answers are uncomfortable.

Osaka still wanted to play. She just didn’t want to partake in one facet around playing. But the tournament officials lost their mud, and she felt like she had to quit to do what’s best for everyone. Again, she wanted to play, she’s perhaps the biggest draw on the women’s side next to Serena, so wouldn’t it have been better for the tournament for her to play and draw bigger ratings and maybe sell some additional tickets?

Compare that to Federer, who basically treated the tourney as a training camp for Wimbledon, and withdrew when he didn’t think he could keep up. Because of that, Matteo Berrettini gets a walkover, and three days off before his next match, which his opponent won’t have. Fed’s decision affects the actual structure of the tournament, which Osaka’s skipping of press conferences would not have. Again, Federer can handle his schedule however he wants, but the base idea here isn’t to enter this tournament merely to knock off ring rust for another tournament down the line.

Which is the bigger violation of the spirit of the French Open? Or to go another way, both of these players, two of the best in the game, took steps to look after themselves. Yet they weren’t greeted in the same way. Funny, that.

We can't be too careful. Two guys in an airport...talking? It's a little fishy.