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Naomi Osaka's first press conference since announcing her French Open media blackout in June has ended in tears after the Japanese star was subjected to an aggressive line of questioning from a local reporter.
A local Cincinnati reporter covering the Western and Southern Open has been accused of being a "bully" after suggesting that Osaka benefited from her huge media profile and yet did not like speaking to journalists.
'SORE LOSER': Tennis world fumes over 'horrible' post-match act
The four-time grand slam champ has lately had a strained relationship with journalists, saying her mental health is adversely impacted by certain lines of questioning.
Osaka 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 Osaka "how do you balance the two?"
Naomi Osaka bursts into tears and exits podium while addressing how she has felt since withdrawing from French Open. pic.twitter.com/xBn8XRF8FB
— The Shadow League (@ShadowLeague) August 16, 2021
“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, Osaka broke down in tears. She then took a break from the podium before returning to address more questions from reporters.
Four Qs or so went smoothly, Naomi was doing well.
Then someone from Cincinnati Enquirer asked her a fairly aggressively toned question about how she benefits from a high-media profile but doesn't like talking to media. Osaka tried to engage, but after her answer began crying.
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) August 16, 2021
Respected tennis journalist Ben Rothenberg described it as a “fairly aggressively toned question” and said it was "deeply frustrating" for other tennis reporters.
“The tennis media people who know Naomi (and whom Naomi knows) had it going smoothly, and then a local reporter completely derailed it,” he said.
“Don’t blame this on ‘tennis media’ again, folks.”
Naomi Osaka's agent slams 'bully' reporter
After the press conference, Osaka's agent Stuart Duguid criticised Daugherty in a statement that labelled him a "bully."
"The bully at the Cincinnati Enquirer is the epitome of why player/media relations are so fraught right now," Duguid said.
"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.
Naomi Osaka 'proud' of her mental health stance
Osaka made brief appearances at media zones after her matches at the Tokyo Olympics but this was her first formal press conference since criticising 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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