Naomi Osaka was reduced to tears in her first press conference since pulling out of May’s French Open after she was pressed by an American reporter about how she has gained fame through the media despite skipping press events.
The 23-year-old Japanese star withdrew from the Grand Slam event earlier this year after she faced several mandatory fines for refusing to attend press conferences, later blaming the impact of invasive lines of questioning on her mental health.
But in her return to the press gauntlet ahead of the Cincinnati Masters, Osaka was pressed by a local reporter, identified as Paul Daugherty, about her motivations in stonewalling the inquisitive media, answering by saying that she was proud of her stance – only for the event to soon be cut short after an emotional Osaka began sobbing at the podium.
“I felt like it was something I needed to do for myself. I felt like I holed up in my house for a couple of weeks and I didn’t know if people would be looking at me in a different way than they usually did before,” the world number two female player said.
I feel so bad for this young lady. Everyone isn’t able to handle what others may have or are handling. Naomi Osaka’s 1st press conference since the French Open controversy saw the tennis star break down in tears after a reporter asked her an “aggressively toned question.” pic.twitter.com/KQDqN5yXzs
— Shay Moore (@heyshaymoore) August 16, 2021
“But I think the biggest eye-opener was going to the Olympics and having other athletes come up to me and say they were really glad that I did what I did. After all that, I’m proud of what I did and I think it was something that needed to be done.”
It quickly became clear that Osaka was once again feeling the pressure as she pulled her hat down to obscure her face and began sobbing into the microphone, prompting a press officer to call a halt to proceedings soon afterwards.
The specific content of the question that upset Osaka is unclear but another tennis journalist, Ben Rothenberg, later tweeted that the line of questioning directed towards her was “aggressive”.
The topic itself wasn’t terrible, but the aggressive tone from an unfamiliar person, after Naomi had already spoken in an earlier answer about how that’s what she finds difficult in press conferences, got things going completely awry. (Naomi had many good moments otherwise!)
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) August 16, 2021
“[He] asked a fairly aggressively toned question about how she benefits from a high-media profile but doesn’t like talking to media,” Rothenberg wrote.
Referencing the matter shortly afterwards, Stuart Duguid, who is Osaka’s agent, released a statement in which he was fiercely critical of the reporter for pursuing this line of questioning.
“The bully at the Cincinnati Enquirer is the epitome of why player and media relations are so fraught right now,” he said.
“Everyone on that Zoom will agree that his tone was all wrong and his sole purpose was to intimidate. Really appalling behavior.
“And this insinuation that Naomi owes her off court success to the media is a myth – don’t be so self-indulgent.”
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