Naomi Osaka broke down in tears in her first press conference since withdrawing from the French Open for mental health reasons. The four-times grand slam champion pulled out of Roland Garros on 31 May after being threatened with expulsion over refusing to fulfil media duties.
The 23-year-old missed Wimbledon but returned to action for the Olympics in her native Japan, and agreed to take part in her first press conference in almost three months on Monday.
Osaka, who has received a bye into Cincinnati’s Western and Southern Open second round, has recently had a strained relationship with some sections of the media, saying her mental health is adversely impacted by certain lines of questioning. She was reduced to tears when a reporter accused her of using the media when it suits her.
“When you say I’m not crazy about dealing with you guys, what does that refer to?” she said.
“I would say the occasion, when to do the press conferences is what I feel is the most difficult,” said Osaka, before pausing. “I’m actually very interested in that point of view.
“For me I feel this is something 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, which is 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 I tweet or say that create a lot of news articles or things like that.
“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.”
After offering that considered answer, Osaka then broke down while trying to listen to the next question. The world number two then left the press conference to compose herself, before returning and answering one further question in English and several in Japanese.
Osaka’s agent Stuart Duguid condemned the reporter’s line of questioning on Monday in a written statement.
“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,” he said.
“And this insinuation that Naomi owes her off-court success to the media is a myth – don’t be so self-indulgent.”
Osaka has used her platform to call attention to menta-health issues and said she has 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 said. “I’m proud of what I did and I think that it was something that needed to be done.”