Naomi Osaka may be stepping away from the media for another mental health break following her unexpected reaction to a reporter’s question during a pre-tournament news conference this week.
On Monday, Aug. 16, the 23-year-old tennis champion appeared at a news conference ahead of her appearance at the Western & Southern Open in Ohio but ended up wiping away tears after a reporter’s question seemingly rubbed her the wrong way.
Osaka’s session in front of reporters at her first tournament on the WTA tour since she withdrew from the French Open in early June began with two questions about mental health and her willingness to participate in news conferences. When Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty asked Osaka a third question with the same theme, the exchange between the two became a long rally of verbal groundstrokes.
“You’re not crazy about dealing with us, especially in this format,” Daugherty began. “Yet you have a lot of outside interests that are served by having a media platform. I guess my question is how do you balance the two?”
“When you say I’m not crazy about dealing with you guys, what does that refer to?” she replied.
“Well, you’ve said you don’t especially like the press conference format, yet that seems to be obviously the most widely used means of communication to the media and through the media to the public,” Daugherty clarified.
“That’s interesting,” Osaka said. “I would say the occasion, like when to do the press conferences what I feel is the most difficult.” The tennis star then seemed to stop as if she were considering the sportswriter’s question more closely, and, declining the moderator’s invitation to move on to the next topic, asked Daugherty to repeat his question.
In reiterating his line of inquiry, Daugherty said: “You also have outside interests, besides tennis, that are served by having the platform that the media presents to you. How do you think you might be able to best balance the two?”
“Ever since I was younger, I’ve had a lot of media interest on me and I think it’s because of my background as well as how I play,” responded the No. 2-ranked tennis player in the world. “Because in the first place, I’m a tennis player and that’s why a lot of people are interested in me, so I would say in that regard I’m quite different to a lot of people and I can’t really help that there are some things that I tweet and there are some things that I say that create a lot of news articles…I know that it’s because I’ve won a couple Grand Slams and I’ve gotten to do a lot of these press conferences that these things happen.”
“I would also say I’m not really sure how to balance the two. I’m figuring it out at the same time as you are, I would say,” she finished.
At this point, as another reporter was asking a question about how she has prepared for the summer hardcourt season in pro tennis and what are her thoughts on the earthquake disaster in Haiti, Osaka’s eyes began to well up and she pulled the bill of her cap down over her face. When a member of the assembled media apologized, she answered, “No, you’re super good.” The moderator then paused the session and Osaka left. She would return in a few minutes and apologize for walking out.
The four-time Grand Slam winner’s agent, Stuart Duguid, blasted the Cincinnati Enquirer columnist later on Monday, saying in a statement, “The bully at the Cincinnati Enquirer is the epitome of why player / media relations are so fraught right now.”
It was just a few weeks ago that Osaka told reporters that she was feeling “refreshed and happy again” following her media hiatus but it looks like she could use a little additional time focusing on just herself and her game.
Osaka previously cited what she characterized as reporters’ lack of regard for athletes’ feelings as a reason for taking time away from interviews ahead of the French Open, which resulted in her being fined and subsequently dropping out of the tournament after the first round.
“I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one,” she wrote. “We’re often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.”
While her relationship with the media may be rocky, Osaka’s heart remains in the right place. The Haitian-Japanese star pledged to donate her winnings from the Western & Southern Open to Haitian relief efforts following the country’s catastrophic earthquake on Saturday morning.