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Tennis star Naomi Osaka broke down in tears and briefly stepped away on Monday from her first news conference since May and first media session since the Tokyo Olympics.
Speaking on Zoom to reporters leading into Cincinnati's Western & Southern Open, Osaka was asked by columnist Paul Daugherty from The Cincinnati Enquirer about her relationship with the media. The question began: "You are not crazy about dealing with us, especially in this 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?"
An exchange ensued between Daugherty and the four-time Grand Slam champion after Osaka took several pauses to answer the question Monday. The moderator offered to move to the next question but Osaka insisted on answering.
After asking Daugherty for clarification on the question, Osaka answered, in part: "I'm quite different to a lot of people and I can't really help that there's are some things that I tweet or some things that I say that kind of create a lot of news articles or things like that. And I know that it's because I've won a couple of Grand Slams and I've gotten to do a lot of press conferences that these things happen. ...I'm not really sure how to balance the two, I am figuring out at the same time as you are."
Osaka has been open about experiencing anxiety before speaking to the media in news conference scenarios. The 23-year-old cited her mental health for pulling out of the French Open in May after she received backlash for boycotting news conferences, for which she received a $15,000 fine. She then withdrew from Wimbledon in June. Osaka's last news conference with reporters was May 12 after she lost to Jessica Pegula in the first round of the Italian Open.
Osaka's agent, Stuart Duguid, told The New York Times that Osaka was affected by the tone of the questioning from the Enquirer.
“We appreciate the respectful dialogue with Ms. Osaka at the press conference," said Beryl Love, executive editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer, which is part of the USA TODAY Network. "It was a straightforward question that we feel led to a meaningful exchange. That said, we sincerely regret that our questioning upset her in any way.”
Following the exchange, Osaka fought back tears after she was asked about her thoughts on events in Haiti, where a 7.2 magnitude earthquake left more than 1,300 dead. Osaka pledged to donate winnings in the Western & Southern Open – held in Cincinnati – to help the country. Leonard Francois, Osaka's father, is a native of Haiti. Osaka then left the news conference for a few minutes.
Osaka opened up about her shocking decision to withdraw from the French Open in a July article with Time magazine. She clarified the stance she took and said her sport is in need of a face-lift to better accommodate athletes.
"Perhaps we should give athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions," Osaka wrote. "It's O.K. to not be O.K."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Naomi Osaka steps away from news conference in tears