Top-ranked tennis star Naomi Osaka held her first press conference since withdrawing from the French Open three months ago citing her mental health struggles connected to speaking with the media.
During a media conference on Zoom at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati on Monday Osaka didn’t fare well as she became tearfully upset when a journalist from the Cincinnati Enquirer asked her a question about her recent dealings with reporters.
“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. I guess my question is, how do you balance the two?” Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Paul Daughtery asked.
“When you say I’m not crazy about dealing with you guys, what does that refer to?” Osaka replied asking for clarification.
Daugherty elaborated on his question saying, “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.”
“That’s interesting. I would say the occasion, like when to do the press conferences what I feel is the most difficult,” Osaka responded before taking a long pause to further think about the question. The moderator tried to quell the awkward pause by suggesting that Osaka take the next question to which she refused.
“No. I’m very actually interested in that point of view,” Osaka said. ” So if you could repeat that, that would be awesome.”
Daugherty again rephrased his question saying that Osaka was not fond of press conferences but suggested that her outside interests are largely propped up by her celebrity generated from her tennis career, he asked how is she able to balance the two.
Osaka responded saying: “I feel like this is something that I can’t really speak for everybody. I can only speak for myself, but 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. Because in the first place I’m a tennis player. That’s why a lot of people are interested in me.”
“I would say in that regard I’m quite different to a lot of people,” she continued. “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. I know it’s because I’ve won a couple of grand slams and I’ve gotten to do a lot of press conferences where these things happen.”
“But I would also say I’m not really sure how to balance the two,” she concluded. “I’m figuring it out at the same time as you are I would say.”
Everything seemed fine after her answer but while moving on to the next question from another journalist Osaka began to visibly tear up in the middle of the question that was asking her about her preparation for the tournament. She tried to contain the tears by looking up but then when she couldn’t she looked down and hid her face beneath her hat wiping her eyes with her sleeve.
The moderator stopped the press conference to allow Osaka an opportunity to step away and compose herself. She would return five minutes later before apologizing and completing the press conference.
“Sorry for walking out,” she said.
The 23-year-old is finally participated in a press conference after swearing off future media appearances despite threats of punishment from all of the sports major tournaments including the Australian Open, Wimbledon, the US Open, and the previously mentioned French Open. Osaka, whose father is Haitian, has announced that she is donating her prize winnings from this event to help support relief efforts for Haiti. The island country just suffered a devastating 7.2-magnitude earthquake that reportedly killed almost two thousand people.
Following the emotional exchange with the journalist Osaka’s agent, Stuart Duguid, issued a statement in which he called the reporter a “bully”.
“The bully at the Cincinnati Enquirer is the epitome of why player / media relations are so fraught right now,” Drguid said in his statement. “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.”
Daugherty later published a column titled, “Naomi Osaka is honest, thoughtful and could help many other athletes” in which he praised her reply as “honest, thoughtful…and unlike any answer I’ve ever gotten in 34 years covering sports in Cincinnati.” He wrote that his question’s nuisance may have been lost during that press conference because of how it was conducted and that “maybe she didn’t understand the question or maybe it made her uncomfortable.”
Osaka’s battle with depression and mental health has been widely reported since her withdrawal from the French Open including her “long bouts of depression” since winning her first major title. It also led to her pulling out of two other recent tennis tournaments including Wimbleton. The extraordinary pressure and expectations that the Japanese tennis great has experienced since 2018 have been tremendous including representing her country Japan at this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo where she was given the honor of lighting the Olympic flame at the game’s opening ceremony. While she was surprisingly upset and eliminated early from the games she became a lightning rod for other athletes dealing with mental health issues including highly decorated Olympian Simone Biles, who withdrew from a majority of Olympic competition over her own mental health battle.
“[Withdrawing from competition] was something I needed to do for myself,” Osaka said later in the press conference. “I was a little bit embarrassed to go out because I didn’t know if people were looking at me in a different way. The biggest eye-opener was going to the Olympics and having other athletes come up to me and say that they were really glad that I did what I did. I’m proud of what I did.”