Naomi Osaka broke down in tears following a question from a longtime American sports columnist during her first WTA press conference since withdrawing from the French Open to focus on her mental health.
Osaka announced before the French Open she would not be attending press conferences, sparking a huge debate in the tennis world before she eventually pulled out of the tournament altogether.
Speaking ahead of the Cincinnati Masters, the four-time grand slam champion briefly walked out of her press conference to compose herself after becoming upset by a line of questioning from Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
The journalist asked Osaka about the balancing act between using the media to promote her profile but not wanting to speak to the press under certain conditions.
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 and do you have anything you'd like to share with us about what you did say to Simone Biles?
Osaka: When you say I'm not crazy about dealing with you guys, what does that refer to?
Daugherty: Well you have said you don't especially like the press conference format. Yet that seems to be the most widely used means of communicating to the media and through the media to the public.
Osaka: That's interesting. Umm, I would say the occasion, like when to do the press conferences is what I feel is the most difficult. But ...hmm. Sorry, I'm thinking.
(Naomi Osaka. Photo / Photosport)
At this point, the press conference moderator suggested moving onto the next question, but Osaka was happy to continue.
Osaka: I'm actually very interested in that point of view. So if you could repeat that, that would be awesome.
Daugherty: The question was, 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: 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. 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 and I can't really help that there are some things that I tweet or some things that I say that create a lot of news articles or things like that. I know that it's because I've won a couple of grand slams and I've got in to do a lot of press conferences that these things happen. 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 journalist was called on to ask a question, tears welled up in Osaka's eyes and she started crying, pulling her hat down over her face. The moderator then suggested a quick break and the 23-year-old left, before later returning to complete her media commitments.
'Appalling' behaviour from a 'bully'
Osaka's agent Stuart Duguid slammed Daugherty and his line of questioning.
As reported by tennis journalist Ben Rothenberg, Duguid said: "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 behaviour.
"And this insinuation that Naomi owes her off court success to the media is a myth – don't be so self-indulgent."
Daugherty, who on Twitter lists himself as a columnist for the Enquirer since 1994, has not publicly responded to Duguid's comments.
Osaka sparked a discussion regarding athletes' mental health after pulling out of the French Open in July following fines for skipping post-match media sessions.
The world No. 2, took a break from major tennis events before returning to compete for Japan at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, revealed that she had battled depression the past few years.