Nearly three months after her French Open media blackout prompted a firestorm and debates about media and mental health, Naomi Osaka returned to the press conference stage for the first time on Monday.
She broke down in tears.
The four-time Grand Slam champion spoke with reporters ahead of this week’s Western & Southern Open, where she has pledged any and all of her winnings from the tournament to Haiti earthquake relief.
She immediately faced questioning about her relationship with media from the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Paul Daugherty, who prefaced his question by declaring “you’re not crazy about dealing with us … yet you have a lot of outside interests that are served by having a media platform.” He then asked, “how do you balance the two?”
“That’s interesting,” Osaka said after asking for clarification on what Daugherty meant by “I’m not crazy about dealing with you guys.”
“… I would say the occasion, like when to do the press conference is what I feel is the most difficult.”
She then paused to gather her thoughts.
“I’m actually very interested in that point of view,” she continued after the moderator asked if she’d like to move on. “For me 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.
“But I would also say, I’m not really sure how to balance it too, I’m figuring it out at the same time as you are, I would say.”
As another reporter asked about tennis and her Haiti pledge (3:45 above), Osaka started to cry. She then took a break from the podium before returning to address more questions from reporters.
Osaka’s agent slams ‘bully’ reporter
After the press conference, Osaka’s agent Stuart Duguid criticized Daugherty in a statement while describing him as a “bully.”
“The bully at the Cincinnati Enquirer is the epitome of why player / media relations are so fraught right now,” Duguid said, per The New York Times’ Ben Rothenberg. “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 has not responded to Duguid’s criticism.
Osaka ‘proud’ of taking stance after talking with other athletes
Osaka made brief appearances at media scrums after her matches at the Tokyo Olympics. But Monday marked the first time she’s sat down for a formal press conference since criticizing the format as taxing on hers and other athletes’ mental health.
Osaka told reporters on Monday that she was initially embarrassed at the onset of the uproar, but that she’s proud of her stance after hearing support from other athletes at the Olympics.
“I would say for me in that moment I wasn’t really proud,” Osaka said. “I felt like it was something I needed to do for myself more than anything. I felt like I holed up in my house for a couple of weeks, and I was a little bit embarrassed to go out because I didn’t know if people were looking at me in a different way than they usually did before.
“I think 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. So after all that, yeah, I’m proud of what I did, and I think it was something that needed to be done.”
As the tournament’s No. 2 seed, Osaka received a bye for the Western & Southern Open’s first round. She’ll open play in the second round against the winner of Tuesday’s match between Coco Gauff and Hsieh Su-wei.
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