Naomi Osaka briefly left a press conference in Cincinnati on Monday after she appeared to get upset with a line of questioning about her relationship with the media, leading her agent to describe a reporter as a “bully”.
Osaka withdrew from the French Open earlier this year after being punished for refusing to do media conferences, saying her mental health was adversely impacted by certain lines of questioning.
On Monday, a reporter from a Cincinnati newspaper asked the 23-year-old: “You’re not crazy about dealing with us, especially in this format. Yet you have a lot of outside interests that are served by having a media platform. How do you balance the two?”
Osaka twice asked the reporter to clarify his question and turned down an offer from the moderator to ”move on to the next question” before giving a full reply.
“Ever since I was younger, I have had a lot of media interest on me, and I think it’s because of my background as well,” said Osaka, who is of Japanese-Haitian heritage but grew up mainly in the United States.
“I can’t really help that there are some things that I tweet or some things that I say that kind of create a lot of news articles or things like that … but I would also say I’m not really sure how to balance the two. Like I’m figuring it out at the same time as you are, I would say.”
When another reporter began to ask about her preparations for the summer hard-court season and her pledge to donate her prize money from this week’s Western & Southern Open to Haitian earthquake relief efforts, Osaka appeared to wipe away tears.
The moderator called for a pause to the proceedings and Osaka left the room for a few minutes but returned to complete the news conference.
Osaka’s French Open withdrawal not only led to her revealing that she has struggled to cope with depression for a number of years but it also prompted her to pull out from Roland Garros and Wimbledon for the sake of her mental well-being.
After losing early at the Tokyo Games, where she was given the honour of lighting the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony, she said she struggled to cope with the huge pressure and expectation placed on her.
Osaka’s agent, Stuart Duguid, condemned the reporter’s line of questioning on Monday in a statement provided to Reuters.
“The bully at the Cincinnati Enquirer is the epitome of why player/media relations are so fraught right now,” said Duguid.
“Everyone on that Zoom will agree that his tone was all wrong and his sole purpose was to intimidate. Really appalling behaviour.
“And this insinuation that Naomi owes her off-court success to the media is a myth – don’t be so self-indulgent.”
The reporter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Osaka has used her platform to call attention to mental health issues and she said at the news conference she felt supported by her fellow athletes.
“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,” she added.
“I’m proud of what I did and I think that it was something that needed to be done.”