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Naomi Osaka leaves press conference in tears; agent says reporter was a ‘bully’

Naomi Osaka lunges for the ball.
Naomi Osaka returned to tennis at the Tokyo Olympics following a brief hiatus to concentrate on her mental health.
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka broke down in tears and left a Zoom news conference briefly Monday following an exchange with a reporter whom her agent later referred to as a “bully.”

Osaka was speaking ahead of playing in the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati later this week. It will be her second tournament since the French Open, where she initially stated she would not participate in post-match news conferences, citing a “disregard for athletes’ mental health,” and eventually withdrew from the tournament and took a break from the sport. She later revealed she suffers from depression and anxiety, and that skipping the news conferences was an attempt “to exercise self-care.”

Four questions into the Monday’s news conference, she had the following exchange with Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty:

Daugherty: “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?”

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Osaka: “When you say I’m not crazy about dealing with you guys, what does that refer to?”

Daugherty: “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.”

Osaka: “Hm, that’s interesting. Um, I would say the occasion, like when to do the press conferences [is] what I feel is the most difficult. But, hmm. [long pause] Sorry, I’m thinking. Umm. [long pause].”

Naomi Osaka revealing her struggles with depression and anxiety shows why her decision to withdraw from the French Open deserves understanding.

(The moderator asks Osaka if she wants to move on to the next question.)

Osaka: “No. I’m very actually interested in that point of view. So if you could repeat that, that would be awesome.”

Daugherty: “The question was that you’re not especially fond of dealing with the media, especially in this format. You have suggested there are better ways to do it, that we’d like to try to explore that. My question, I guess, was you also have outside interests beyond tennis that are served by having the platform that the media presents to you. My question is how do you think you might be able to best balance the two?”

Osaka: “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.

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“So I would say in that regard I’m quite different to a lot of people. 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 Grand Slams and I’ve gotten to do a lot of press conferences where these things happen.

“But I would also say [pause] 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.”

Naomi Osaka, who lit the Olympic cauldron and was a favorite to win gold in her home country at the Tokyo Olympics, lost in the third round to Marketa Vondrousova.

Osaka didn’t seem upset as she responded to Daugherty. But as the next reporter began to speak, Osaka started wiping her eyes with her sleeve and pulled the bill of her hat over her face. Her eyes were red when she looked up to attempt to answer the question, which was unrelated to the previous topic. The reporter said, “Sorry,” to which Osaka responded, “No, you’re super good.”

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Osaka attempted to speak further but couldn’t, leading the moderator to announce a brief break. Osaka, who was clearly crying at that point, moved off camera but returned after about four minutes.

“Sorry for walking out,” she said before answering the reporter’s question.

Later, Osaka’s agent, Stuart Duguid, issued a statement regarding Osaka’s exchange with Daugherty:

“The bully at the Cincinnati Enquirer is the epitome of why player/media relations are so fraught right now. 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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Cincinnati Enquirer executive editor Beryl Love also released a statement:

Tennis star Naomi Osaka writes in Time magazine about the events that led her to withdraw from the French Open and take a break from the sport.

“We appreciate the respectful dialogue with Ms. Osaka at the press conference. It was a straightforward question that we feel led to a meaningful exchange. That said, we sincerely regret that our questioning upset her in any way.”

In his column, Daugherty discussed his exchange with Osaka but did not mention that it upset the tennis star. He described how she paused twice for 30 seconds and that he repeated his question twice.

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“Maybe she didn’t understand the question or maybe it made her uncomfortable,” he wrote. “In the Zoom format, there’s no room for discussion or nuance.”

But he had high praise for Osaka and her eventual answer to his question.

“Honest, thoughtful ... and unlike any answer I’ve ever gotten in 34 years covering sports in Cincinnati,” Daugherty wrote.


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