In 2018, during the U.S. Open trophy presentation, after a match marred by controversy surrounding a confrontation between Serena Williams and the umpire. The crowd, which had been on Williams’s side, booed as Osaka was named the champion. Osaka cried, and tried to hide her face. She was twenty years old then, already launched into a life that everyone could see and that no one could possibly imagine. Over the next three years, Osaka won three more Grand Slams, and the publicity surrounding her career and her life grew even more intense. Her image was on the cover of Vogue and on billboards towering over Los Angeles and Tokyo. She became an icon, and she did iconic things. She helped design sneakers for Nike, a salad for Sweetgreen. In May, Sportico estimated that she had earned more than fifty million dollars during the previous year, which made her the highest-paid female athlete in history... A recent Times feature about her ran under the headline “How Naomi Osaka Became Everyone’s Favorite Spokesmodel.”
It is not, in fact, unusual for players to skip press conferences—particularly players who can afford to pay the resulting fines. What was unusual was the decision to opt out of them entirely, ahead of time, and to publicly question the rules and practices surrounding them. Osaka also sent a private e-mail to French Open officials apologizing for any affront and saying that she would like to “work with the Tour” to set up a new system once the tournament was done. But the officials at all four Grand Slams treated both this e-mail and her initial statement as existential threats. After trying and failing to engage with Osaka, they said, they issued a joint statement to publicly warn her that the penalties would escalate if she maintained her stance and that she could be expelled from the tournament. Within a day [given those threats], she pulled out.