Naomi Osaka briefly left a press conference in Cincinnati on Monday after appearing upset over a series of questions about her relationship with the media, leading her agent to label a reporter a “thug”.
Osaka pulled out of the French Open earlier this year after being fined for refusing to hold media conferences and said her mental health had been compromised by certain questioning.
On Monday, a reporter for a Cincinnati newspaper asked the 23-year-old, “You are not crazy about how we interact with us, especially in this format. Nevertheless, you have many external interests that are served by a media platform. How do you balance the two? “
Osaka twice asked the reporter to clarify his question and declined an offer from the moderator to “move on to the next question” before giving a full answer.
“I’ve had a lot of media interest in myself since I was younger, and I think that’s because of my background,” said Osaka, who is of Japanese-Haitian descent but grew up mostly in the United States.
“I can’t really help that there are some things I tweet or say that create a lot of news articles or the like … but I would also say that I’m not really sure how to balance the two As if I found out at the same time as you, I would say. “
When another reporter started asking about her preparations for the summer hard court season and her promise to donate her prize money from this week’s Western & Southern Open to Haiti earthquake relief, Osaka seemed to wipe away tears.
The moderator requested a break from the session and Osaka left the room for a few minutes but returned to end the press conference.
Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open not only led her to reveal that she had struggled with depression for a number of years, but also to retire from Roland Garros and Wimbledon for reasons of her mental wellbeing.
After losing early at the Tokyo Games, where she was given the honor of lighting the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony, she said she was struggling to cope with the tremendous pressures and expectations that weighed on her .
Osaka’s agent Stuart Duguid condemned the reporter’s questioning on Monday in a statement to Reuters.
“The tyrant at the Cincinnati Enquirer epitomizes why player-media relations are so strained right now,” said Duguid.
“Everyone on this zoom will agree that their tone was completely wrong and that its only purpose was to intimidate. Really appalling behavior.
“And this allegation that Naomi owes her extrajudicial success to the media is a myth – don’t be so complacent.”
The reporter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Osaka has used her platform to raise awareness of mental health issues, and she said at the press conference that she felt supported by fellow athletes.
“The biggest eye opener was going to the Olympics and having other athletes come up to me and say that they are really glad I did what I did,” she added.
“I’m proud of what I did and I think it was something that had to be done.”
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles, Additional reporting by Amy Tennery, Editing by Pritha Sarkar / Peter Rutherford)