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‘Brutal snub’ to ‘disturbing’ message and ‘demeaning’ interview: Naomi Osaka’s Australian Open

It should have been a jubilant tennis triumph – but Naomi Osaka’s Australian Open wins have been a taste of the intense pressure that would this week drive her to quit.

The Japanese four-time Grand Slam champion and world number two pulled out of the Roland Garros French Open on Tuesday in a bitter row over media scrutiny.  

Osaka, 23, has refused to do any press conferences for the tournament, claiming it was damaging her mental health.

That decision earned her a US$15,000 fine, which has now prompted her shock withdrawal from the tournament completely. 

A post-match Australian Open interview with Channel Nine’s Tony Jones (left) was branded cringeworthy, demeaning and insulting to newly-crowned champion Naomi Osaka (right)

‘This isn’t a situation I ever imagined or intended when I posted a few days ago,’ she explained on Twitter.

‘I think now the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being is that I withdraw so that everyone can get back to focusing on the tennis going on in Paris.

‘I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer.’

But the roots of the surprise exit can be traced back to her first Australian Open victory in Melbourne two years ago when she confronted massive media interest and endured a car-crash post-match interview.

The Australian pressure had already begun a few months earlier when she was dragged into a race row after winning the 2018 US Open and her first Grand Slam title.

Ms Osaka's 2018 US Open win was marred by fans booing her during the trophy presentation and then a racism row over a cartoon about the match published in an Australian newspaper

Ms Osaka’s 2018 US Open win was marred by fans booing her during the trophy presentation and then a racism row over a cartoon about the match published in an Australian newspaper

A cartoon in Melbourne’s Herald Sun lampooned defeated finalist Serena Williams for an on-court temper tantrum, in a style reminscent of controversial Jim Crow-era drawings.

In the background of the cartoon, dark-haired Japanese star Osaka was portrayed as a blonde asking the umpire to allow Williams to win to keep her happy.

The cartoon caused outrage across the globe but was later cleared of being racist by the Australian Press Council despite the stereotype caricatures.

But on the back of that row and her first Grand Slam win, Ms Osaka was immediately in spotlight when she flew into Melbourne for the 2019 Australian Open.

On Tuesday she admitted she was already suffering from depression at the time when she snatched back-to-back Grand Slams to take the Australian title.

Post-match though, an interview with Channel Nine’s Tony Jones was branded cringeworthy, demeaning and insulting to the champion.

The interview got off to an awkward start when Mr Jones quipped that he was ‘not sure how you carried it all this way’ after she hauled the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup to the Channel Nine set. 

When the star was seemingly taken aback by the comment and smiled, the sports reporter remarked: ‘There’s the smile’. 

A cryptic message to her sister made international headlines as pressure mounted on the Japanese-born star who has now quit the Roland Garros French Open to escape media scrutiny

A cryptic message to her sister made international headlines as pressure mounted on the Japanese-born star who has now quit the Roland Garros French Open to escape media scrutiny

While some fans deemed that comment to be condescending, others took issue with the way he broached her heritage.

‘Your grandparents are back in Japan and you left Japan at three and you still regard yourself as a Japanese player,’ he said.

‘It took a time for your grandparents that you and your sisters wanted to play tennis and they finally came on board.’

One viewer fumed:  ‘Is it just me or was that the most cringeworthy, awkward, pathetic, and disrespectful post match interview with the 2019 Women’s Australian Open Champion Naomi Osaka?’

‘Tony Jones take the day off tomorrow please! #embarrassing’

‘Tony Jones way out of his depth. The interview was outrageous and his questions demeaning and insulting,’ a further Tweet read.

When Ms Osaka was seemingly taken aback in the interview with Tony Jones and smiled, the sports reporter remarked: 'There's the smile'.

When Ms Osaka was seemingly taken aback in the interview with Tony Jones and smiled, the sports reporter remarked: ‘There’s the smile’.

One perplexed viewer pointed out: ‘So in a five minute interview, Tony Jones quizzed the World No. 1, two-time Grand Slam champion, Naomi Osaka, on: Shopping, Smiling, How she managed to carry the trophy, ‘Regarding herself’ as Japanese.

‘As if Channel Nine’s coverage wasn’t insulting enough.’

Echoing a similar sentiment, another viewer raged: ‘Most awkward interview Dumb question after dumb question.’

But the scrutiny didn’t end when Ms Osaka returned to Melbourne again this year on her way to her second Australian Open title.

Ms Osaka later explained her sister Mari, 24, who's also a tennis player, often sends disturbing messages in their group chat

Ms Osaka later explained her sister Mari, 24, who’s also a tennis player, often sends disturbing messages in their group chat

After once again beating Serena Williams, this time in the semi-finals, she scrawled a cryptic message on the camera screen which set the internet alight.

Ms Osaka sent tennis viewers around the world into meltdown with a peculiar message aimed at her older sister Mari back home following her post-match interview on court.

‘Mari stop sending werid (sic) images in the groupchat!’ she signed off on a television lens. 

Ms Osaka later explained her sister Mari, 24, who’s also a tennis player, often sends disturbing messages in their group chat.

‘She sends really weird images and apparently I spelled ‘weird’ wrong so my bad,’ she told Eurosport.

‘She sends really strange images in the group chat to me and my friends. Sometimes it’s a bit disturbing but we love her either way.’

Her sister hit back with an Instagram story with one of the bizarre images of an eyeball being licked.

 ‘To the ppl asking what I send in the gc,’ Mari captioned the now-deleted Instagram story.

Ms Osaka went on to beat Jennifer Brady in the final claim her fourth Grand Slam – but yet again came under fire for a simple slip of the tongue.

Ms Osaka beat Jennifer Brady (pictured) in the 2021 Australian Open final claim her fourth Grand Slam - but yet again came under fire for a simple slip of the tongue

Ms Osaka beat Jennifer Brady (pictured) in the 2021 Australian Open final claim her fourth Grand Slam – but yet again came under fire for a simple slip of the tongue

She was accused of a ‘brutal snub’ after post-match comments when she asked defeated finalist Jennifer Brady if she preferred to be called Jenny or Jennifer.

Although Ms Brady replied Jenny, Ms Osaka immediately called her Jennifer – sparking laughter in the crowd but earning the wrath of tennis fans around the world.

The mistake made headlines around the world and Twitter users chimed in on the row too, saying it showed ‘absolute disrespect’ with ‘no mercy’.

Afterwards though Ms Osaka apologised for the error and said she was convinced she’d called her Jenny.

 ‘Omg no,’ Ms Osaka wrote on Twitter. ‘I promise you my mind thought I called her Jenny in that moment and I was so confused why the crowd was laughing. 

‘I’m so sorry.’

On Tuesday, Ms Osaka said she was withdrawing from the French Open as she couldn’t handle the media glare any longer.

 ‘The truth is that I have suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that,’ she said.

On Tuesday, Ms Osaka said she was withdrawing from the French Open as she couldn't handle the media glare any longer

On Tuesday, Ms Osaka said she was withdrawing from the French Open as she couldn’t handle the media glare any longer

‘Anyone that knows me knows I’m introverted, and anyone that has seen me at the tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety.’

French Tennis Federation President Gilles Moretton said her withdrawal was ‘unfortunate’.

He added: ‘We are sorry and sad for Naomi Osaka. The outcome of Naomi withdrawing from Roland Garros is unfortunate. 

‘We wish her the best and quickest possible recovery, and we look forward to having Naomi at our tournament next year.’



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