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Cincinnati: Naomi Osaka handles "bully" in first press conference since May
Ahead of the Western & Southern Open, the four-time major champion spoke with media about her Tokyo 2020 experience, current presser format, proposal to add sick days and the earthquake devastation in Haiti.
Published Aug 16, 2021
WATCH: Osaka's pre-tournament press conference in Cincinnati
At the Tokyo Olympics, Naomi Osaka had the honor of lighting the cauldron to officially open the Games. That momentous occasion marked just her second public appearance (ESPY Awards) since the French Open, where the No. 2 seed ultimately pulled out after one round of play due to mental health concerns.
In the Japanese capital, Osaka spoke with media in the mixed zone following the completion of her three singles matches. On Monday, the Japanese superstar took a bigger step forward when she participated in her first press conference since publicly announcing she would opt out of the required media activity at Roland Garros.
Set to play the Western & Southern Open, a 1000-level tournament Osaka finished runner-up at last year when it was staged in New York, the 23-year-old eased herself into the Zoom setting. Asked about her communication with gymnast Simone Biles, Osaka said, “I sent her a message, but I also want to give her space because I know how overwhelming it can feel.”
An understandable thread throughout Osaka’s dialogue with media was the press conference structure. Can it be approached differently? How would opt-out availability work? For most, this was their first opportunity to interact with Osaka since May.
“Maybe if we could be given a sort of a sick day,” a smiling Osaka suggested. “We get fined if we don't do press conferences, but sometimes we feel like really sad, and maybe there should be a rule that we could take a sick day from that and respond to you guys in e-mails and things like that.
“Then again, I'm only speaking from my side. I guess maybe you want to capture us when we're like straight off the court, as well, so I'm not sure what's fair.”
Requested to give some insight on how media could improve the overall experience for the world No. 2 and her peers, Osaka stated, “There are times where I would say there is people that I don't know that well that ask me really, really sensitive questions, and then especially after a loss kind of amplifies a bit.
“I'm not a professional in press conferences or anything, but, yeah, just to like make it a bit more of a friendlier experience, I would say.”
Not long after, Osaka was presented a question that opened with a direct tone. “You're not crazy about dealing with us, especially in this format,” Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer began, before wondering how the defending US Open champion balances outside interests that are “served by a media platform.”
Osaka went back and forth with the local journalist, and though given the approval to move on by the WTA’s moderator, she wanted to hear the question again to understand his point of view. Osaka ultimately ended her answer by acknowledging, “I'm not really sure how to balance the two. Like I'm figuring it out at the same time as you are, I would say.”
As the English language portion of the presser approached its conclusion, Osaka briefly left the room to compose her emotions. While the four-minute break came following a question about Osaka’s decision to donate her Cincinnati prize money towards earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, the earlier exchange with Daugherty, who proclaims to "provoke honestly" in his Twitter bio, was the catalyst. New York Times reporter Ben Rothenberg later shared reaction (also provided to Reuters) from Osaka’s agent Stuart Duguid about the moment.
“The bully at the Cincinnati Enquirer is the epitome of why player / media relations are so fraught right now,” declared Duguid, Senior Vice President of IMG Tennis.
When Osaka returned, she finished up to discuss her hard-court preparation and what’s happening in Haiti.
“I feel like I'm not really doing that much, like I could do more, and I'm trying to figure out what I can do and what exactly or where exactly to put my energy into,” she told Courtney Nguyen of WTA Insider. “The prize money, it's sort of like the first thing that I thought would raise the most awareness.”
Osaka’s on-court start at the Lindner Family Tennis Center should be full of intrigue either way, as she awaits the winner of Coco Gauff and Hsieh Su-wei. The pair of competitors are slated to meet Tuesday.