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Naomi Osaka tears up over reporter's 'aggressively toned question', fans say 'leave her alone'

In her first presser since French Open, Osaka was left in tears by a reporter, struggles to finish conference as internet is left agast
UPDATED AUG 17, 2021
Naomi Osaka during the press conference after the 2021 Western & Southern Open (Twitter) with an insert of her photo (Naomi Osaka/Instagram)
Naomi Osaka during the press conference after the 2021 Western & Southern Open (Twitter) with an insert of her photo (Naomi Osaka/Instagram)

After winning the 2021 Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati on August 16, tennis star Naomi Osaka was left in tears. It wasn't from winning the tournament but rather from the press conference. Details are murky but we do know Osaka broke down after a local reporter asked her a "fairly aggressively toned question," which led to her walking off for a while.

The conference is the first time Osaka went in front of the media since the French Open, back in May. Osaka left the tournament midway, citing mental health concerns. Shortly after, Osaka was threatened with a ban from the US Open, as she continued to refuse to speak to the press. In late June, she posed for the cover of Vogue magazine, despite her press boycott sparking further controversy.  


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Since then, Osaka has participated in the Tokyo Olympics, snagged a massive deal with Adidas, and even released a Netflix documentary. However, throughout all this, she's been well away from the press. That finally changed on August 16 in Cincinnati, but it didn't last long. Osaka broke down after about four questions, and her press officer was forced to step in and pause the conference, so Osaka could collect herself before returning. 

Naomi Osaka of Team Japan reacts during her Women's Singles Third Round match at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Tennis Park on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Why did Osaka break down?

By all accounts, Osaka broke down after an "aggressive question" by Cincinnati Enquirer sports columnist Paul Daugherty. Video footage from the incident shows Osaka sobbing into the microphone, but doesn't cover why. According to Ben Rothenberg, a tennis reporter, "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." Rothenberg then tweeted, "The topic itself wasn't terrible, but the aggressive tone from an unfamiliar person, after Naomi had already spoken in an earlier answer about how that's what she finds difficult in press conferences, got things going completely awry. (Naomi had many good moments otherwise!)"



Before breaking down, Osaka did manage to answer Daugherty's question. "I felt like it was something I needed to do for yourself. I felt like I holed up in my house for a couple of weeks, and I didn't know if people would be looking at me in a different way than they usually did before," she replied. "But I think 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. After all that, I'm proud of what I did and I think it was something that needed to be done," Osaka added. 

Video footage shows Osaka pulling her cap over her face, and wiping away tears with her sleeve. She then begins to sob into the microphone, leading the moderator to step in. Reportedly, Osaka left the conference for a short while, before returning to complete it. In return, she managed to answer questions both in English and Japanese without further incident. Axios sports writer Kendall Baker was one of the first to share the video, tweeting, "Naomi Osaka's return to press conferences began smoothly. Then a reporter asked an "aggressively toned question about how she benefits from a high-media profile but doesn't like talking to media," per @BenRothenberg. Caused her to cry and step away."


Internet slams 'a**hole reporter'

As news of Osaka's breakdown made its way to social media, people began to criticize Daugherty and the press. One person tweeted, "People criticizing Osaka for showing emotion and being a human with feelings instead of a robot need to be quiet. She finished the press conference, despite obviously struggling. Don’t @ me with negativity, let us just be kinder more understanding humans." Another said, "I feel for her. No matter your talent, nothing can prepare you for the eye of the press. And by all accounts Osaka is incredibly shy."



One person said, "Naomi Osaka left her first press conference in ages, crying, due to an a**hole reporter. Gonna have to make a "Leave Naomi Alone!" video, aren't I?" Another commented, "Nah , hate to break it to the timeline , but a reporter asking Osaka about basically being a hypocrite is completely fair . Her crying about it is also fair though."



Shortly after the presser, Osaka's agent released a statement saying, "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 behavior. And this insinuation that Naomi owes her off court success to the media is a myth – don’t be so self-indulgent." Osaka herself has not addressed the incident so far. Her last tweet was a promotion for a collaboration with Levis, hours ago.