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Naomi Osaka briefly left a press conference in tears. While speaking to reporters on Monday, ahead of her first match at the Western & Southern Open, the 23-year-old tennis star openly cried and left the room after questions from the press.
The press conference was Osaka's first since announcing in May that she would not be speaking to the press at the French Open, citing mental health concerns. After she won her first match at the tournament and was fined $15,000 for skipping the resulting press conference, Osaka pulled out of the French Open altogether to further protect her mental health.
During Monday's press conference, Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Paul Daugherty asked Osaka, "You’re not crazy about dealing with us, especially in this [press conference] 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?"
Osaka responded by asking Daugherty to clarify his question. Once he did, she said that "when to do the press conference is the most difficult" part, before pausing to think more about Daugherty's question.
At that point, the moderator offered to let her skip answering. The tennis star insisted that she was "very interested in that point of view," though, and once again asked Daugherty to repeat his question. He did, and Osaka offered an answer.
"I can’t really speak for everybody, 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, you know, how I play," she said. "Because 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."
"I can’t really help [that] there are some things that I tweet or some things that I say that kind of create a lot of news articles and things like that. I know that it’s because I’ve won a couple Grand Slams and I’ve gotten to do a lot of press conferences that these things happen, but I would also say I’m not really sure how to balance the two," she continued. "I’m figuring out at the same time you are."
While Osaka did not cry while giving her answer, she began doing so just as the next reporter, Courtney Nguyen of WTA Insider, started asking her question.
Osaka started wiping away tears and pulled her visor over her face as the reporter began asking about both her training and her promise to donate any winnings she receives from the tournament to Haiti, her father's home country, in the wake of the recent devastating earthquake.
When the reporter realized that Osaka was crying, she apologized, and Osaka responded, "No, you're super good."
The tennis star next took a couple of deep breaths and continued to cry, before the moderator announced that they'd be taking "a quick break." Osaka left the room with her head down, before returning to answer questions shortly thereafter. Upon her return, Osaka apologized for walking out.
Following the press conference, Daugherty told ET in a statement, "I asked her a simple question, one I’ve asked lots of young and famous pro athletes over the years. She gave a candid and perceptive answer. That’s pretty much the point, isn’t it?"
The reporter also penned a column in which he wrote that he was unsure if Osaka understood his question or was made uncomfortable by it, adding that "in the Zoom format, there’s no room for discussion or nuance."
Later in the column, he praised Osaka's response as "honest, thoughtful, and unlike any answer I’ve ever gotten in 34 years covering sports in Cincinnati."
Meanwhile, in a statement to ET, Osaka's agent, Stuart Duguid, called Daugherty "a bully," adding that he 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," the statement continued. "And this insinuation that Naomi owes her off-court success to the media is a myth -- don't be so self-indulgent."