U.S. Tennis Association Chairman Steve Simon Monday praised the agents and management company WME | IMG who discovered 18-year-old Japanese and Chinese star Naomi Osaka as a promising tennis player.
Osaka, the first top-10 player of Asian descent, reached the semifinals of the Miami Open last week. While practicing in Florida, she unknowingly had to be removed from court and her coach was put in a chokehold by Venus Williams’ sister Serena, who is facing a child abuse charge. Williams could go to jail if convicted.
Osaka reached No. 8 on the WTA women’s singles ranking, which will become official Monday.
Simon told reporters in a conference call that “Naomi does not represent anything that’s a negative.
“First and foremost, I want to make clear she does not represent Serena, she’s not related to Serena in any way, and I don’t think anybody should even think or talk about her in relation to Serena right now,” Simon said.
Williams, a six-time Grand Slam winner, made the initial call to the U.S. Tennis Association to request that the match be postponed while the circumstances are investigated. That call drew a warning from tournament referee Brian Earley.
Simon told reporters Williams had similar situations with fans at other tournaments.
“I will tell you when the next time we have that type of type of situation takes place. It will not be an incident that needs to happen to Serena’s opponent’s person, and hopefully we’re already past the first one, but if it’s going to take place in the future and it’s going to be a relationship between the U.S. Tennis Association and the other tour, which in my view is a conversation we need to have, I think our players deserve the chance to practice and play, but I’d say the U.S. Tennis Association would not have an issue with that in terms of putting forth safety measures to help prevent and to deal with situations like that,” Simon said.
Osaka, who won the first and only WTA title of her career in April, expressed sympathy for Serena Williams, a 17-time Grand Slam winner.
“Honestly, I can only think of the victim and the person that has gone through that and I’m hoping everything is fine,” Osaka said Friday on court.
WTA CEO Steve Simon told reporters he had full confidence in WME | IMG and the WTA to handle the matter.
Simon noted that Williams’ friends had invited Osaka to parties in the South Florida area and even called the Miami Herald on her behalf as a rumor spread that the teenager was a drug dealer.
“I think if anybody from the WTA or WTA player community should be speaking out and speaking freely about this, I’m the one that should be the one,” Simon said. “I’m sitting here absolutely confident and very excited about the potential of both people moving forward.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.