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Sports

Osaka crisis sends French Open reeling as Djokovic, Nadal begin title bids

  • Barty vacated her Roland Garros title after skipping much of the 2020 season citing health and travel risks.
Published June 1, 2021
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PARIS: Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal get their French Open campaigns underway Tuesday with the tournament still reeling from the sensational withdrawal of Naomi Osaka and her revelation that she has been suffering long periods of depression.

World number two Osaka, who had already been fined $15,000 and threatened with disqualification for refusing to take part in a news conference after her first round win, said she was going to take a break from the sport.

"The best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris," said the 23-year-old Japanese star, a four-time Grand Slam title winner.

She claimed on the eve of Roland Garros that such post-match inquests were akin to "kicking people when they are down" and that they had a detrimental effect on her mental health.

"I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer.

"The truth is I have suffered bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that.

"In Paris, I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences."

On the court Tuesday, world number one Djokovic starts his bid to win a second French Open against world number 66 Tennys Sandgren, a player he has beaten three times out of three.

Sandgren famously missed seven match points before losing to Roger Federer in the Australian Open quarter-finals last year.

Djokovic, chasing a 19th major and bidding to become the first man in more than 50 years to win all four Slams more than once, arrived in Paris fresh from claiming his 83rd career title in Belgrade.

Nadal tackles Australia's world number 63 Alexei Popyrin just weeks after defeating the 21-year-old in Madrid.

Popyrin has already earned a personal best of 15 wins on tour this year but has yet to get past the second round in Paris.

"He's young, he has the power, big shots and so I need to play well," said Nadal as he looks for his 101st win at the French Open against just two losses.

Women's top seed and 2019 champion Ashleigh Barty takes on American world number 70 Bernarda Pera.

Croatian-born Pera is a left-hander who has reached the second round in Paris in 2018 and 2020.

A solid clay court performer, she went through qualifying to make the main draw in Madrid and Rome this spring.

In the Italian capital, it took former French Open winner Garbine Muguruza to stop her in three sets in the second round.

Barty vacated her Roland Garros title after skipping much of the 2020 season citing health and travel risks.

But she has won three titles this year and reached the Madrid final, although an arm injury at the Italian Open forced her out of the quarter-finals and cast doubt over her fitness in Paris.

"I think coming back to the site here at Roland Garros is obviously pretty special, pretty cool," said Barty.

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