Most Valuable Female Athlete Naomi's Pullout May Hurt Grand Slams
Naomi Osaka's withdrawal from the French Open will not just impact the draw but also likely future sponsors.
After announcing her decision to skip post-match press conferences at the French Open due to mental health reasons, the world's second ranked female tennis player Naomi Osaka was fined $15,000 by the organisers on Sunday. Following criticism on her decision from a few quarters, Osaka has since decided to pull out of the second Grand Slam of the year.
While her decision to not speak to the media was a setback for the Roland Garros organisers, Osaka's withdrawal will be a bigger hit for the clay-court tournament, specially considering she's the world's highest-earning female athlete at the moment.
Naomi pipped long-time top grosser Serena Williams to second place and moved into first place in the Forbes list for highest-earning female athletes in 2020.
While the young Japanese star's achievements on the court are far less compared to Serena's -- she has four Grand Slam titles against Serena's 23 -- she is favoured by the sponsors, having won multiple Grand Slam titles over the last four years. Serena last won a Grand Slam in 2017.
The Japanese world No. 2 earned a massive $37.4 million in 2020, just $2.6 million less than men's tennis heavyweight Rafael Nadal ($40 million). The prize money share of her earnings comprised only $3.4million. The remaining $34 million came from endorsements.
According to a report in 2020 in the Forbes magazine, Naomi has 15 endorsement partners, including Nissan Motors, Shiseido and Yonex. Nike wrested her from Adidas, committing about $10 million annually.
The 39-year-old Serena, on the other hand, has earnings of $36 million which is $1.4 million lower than Naomi. As much as $32 million of the $36 million earned by Serena comprises endorsements.
The duo are the two highest paid women athletes and are way ahead of their nearest competitor Ashleigh Barty, whose earnings are $13.1 million. Among the top 10 earners among women athletes, nine are tennis players.
The interest shown by sponsors in Naomi is understandable.
Since Serena Williams won the last of her Grand Slams, back in 2017 at the Australian Open, 11 women have shared 15 Grand Slam titles. Only Romania's Simona Halep and Naomi have won multiple Grand Slam titles with the Japanese winning it four times compared to two by Halep.
Naomi's first Grand Slam title came at the 2018 US Open. She followed it up with Australian Open in 2019, US Open in 2020 and Australian Open earlier this year.
It came as no surprise then that French Tennis Federation president Gilles Moretton wants to see Naomi back at the tournament next year even though he had earlier said that Naomi's decision to not speak to media was a 'phenomenal error'.
"We are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka. The outcome of Naomi withdrawing from Roland Garros is unfortunate," Moretton said in a short press conference after Naomi's pullout.
"We wish her the best and the quickest possible recovery. We look forward to having Naomi in our tournament next year," Moretton added.
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