Bizarre questions, tears and anger: tennis players and press conferences

·3-min read

The mandatory press conferences thrown into the spotlight this week by Naomi Osaka's shock withdrawal from the French Open are usually dull affairs, but occasionally spark tears, angry responses and even the odd heart to heart.

Japanese star Osaka pulled out of Roland Garros after being fined $15,000 and threatened with disqualification by organisers following her refusal to speak to the media.

The 23-year-old four-time Grand Slam champion likened the post-match pressers to "kicking people when they're down".

"I have often felt that people have no regard for athletes' mental health and this rings true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one," Osaka said in her initial statement last week, saying she would not speak to the media.

"We're often sat there and asked questions that we've been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I am not going to subject myself to people who doubt me."

Her stance has raised questions over whether Osaka, who has been suffering with "bouts of depression" for three years, is an isolated case in feeling anxiety about press conferences, or not.

The toughest time to face the traditional post-match inquisitions tends to be after a defeat, especially after particularly a difficult one to take.

Players other than Osaka have avoided media obligations before -- world number one Novak Djokovic made a hasty exit from Flushing Meadows after his infamous default from last year's US Open.

Others opt to turn up, but answer questions in the most limited way possible.

Venus Williams and Bernard Tomic are among those to have taken the "yes/no" approach.

- 'Stupidest question I've heard' -

Sometimes, though, players hit back when faced with questions they deem downright stupid or inappropriate.

"That is the stupidest question I have ever heard," Nick Kyrgios said in January 2020, when asked if it was "possible for Alex de Minaur to beat Nadal".

Even 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal himself criticised a journalist in 2019 for asking him if his form on court had been affected by getting married.

"Honestly are you asking me this? Is this a serious question or a joke?," retorted the Spaniard, who then called the question "bullshit".

There is no doubt that sometimes players face inappropriate questions -- Simona Halep was once asked if her breast reduction had "served her on the court or outside".

Sometimes the questions are just bizarre, like when Stan Wawrinka was asked about "what Martin Luther King would have looked like on Twitter".

It is the pain of fielding questions after a painful loss that Osaka referenced, shown by the tears of Gael Monfils at the Australian Open in February.

"Every time I arrive here, I feel judged. They tell me: 'You lost again, why?'. I am already on the ground and you shoot me," said the Frenchman in despair after a first-round exit.

"There's a sense of voyeurism around how it presently works," wrote Peter Terry, a professor of psychology at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia on, on Tuesday.

"Perhaps some want to see athletes crumble and break down into tears, having put them on a pedestal."

Serena Williams, bidding for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title in Paris this fortnight, admitted that she too has felt anxious before press conferences.

"I've been where I've been very difficult to walk in (to press conferences) in those moments. But, you know, it made me stronger," she said on Tuesday.

Daniil Medvedev, known for his often unpredictable personality on court, believes that sometimes the post-match interviews help him.

"When I'm in a bad mood, sometimes I'm in a better mood after talking to you," he told reporters.

But for most players, like world number one Ashleigh Barty, speaking to the press is just "part of the job".

Whether or not always being obliged to speak to media remains part of the job is a question now being asked in light of Osaka's revelations.