On July 19, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit debuted its 2021 issue with Megan Thee Stallion, Leyna Bloom and the tennis star on its covers. "First Haitian and Japanese woman on the cover," Osaka tweeted along with the photos.
Shortly after, conservative sports analyst Clay Travis tweeted his reaction to Osaka's cover, which was released about two months after she decided not to speak to the media at the French Open to prioritize her mental health.
"Since saying she's too introverted to talk to the media after tennis matches," Travis wrote, "Naomi Osaka has launched a reality show, a Barbie, and now is on the cover of the SI swimsuit issue."
Kelly then added, "Let's not forget the cover of (& interview in) Vogue Japan and Time Mag!"
According to a screenshot captured by Sporting News, Osaka then replied to Kelly's post. "Seeing as you're a journalist I would've assumed you would take the time to research what the lead times are for magazines," she wrote in the since-deleted message, "if you did that you would've found out I shot all of my covers last year. Instead your first reaction is to hop on here and spew negativity, do better Megan [sic]."
Later on, Kelly claimed Osaka blocked her on Twitter. "Poor @naomiosaka blocked me while taking a shot at me (guess she's only tough on the courts)," the former TV anchor wrote. "She is apparently arguing that she shot her many covers b/4 publicly claiming she was too socially anxious to deal w/press. Truth is she just doesn't like Qs she can't control. Admit it."
"The truth is that I suffered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that," she wrote in part of a message to her followers on Instagram. "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. Though the tennis press has always been kind to me (and I wanna apologize especially to all the cool journalists who I may have hurt), I am not a natural speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world's media."
Earlier this month, Time published an essay penned by the four-time Grand Slam champion in which she advocated for change in the press conference format, such as by giving "athletes the right to take a mental break from media scrutiny on a rare occasion without being subject to strict sanctions." She also thanked her fans for their support and noted she always tries "to push myself to speak up for what I believe to be right," even at the cost of her anxiety.
"I feel uncomfortable being the spokesperson or face of athlete mental health as it's still so new to me and I don't have all the answers," Osaka wrote. "I do hope that people can relate and understand it's O.K. to not be O.K., and it's O.K. to talk about it. There are people who can help, and there is usually light at the end of any tunnel."