Naomi Osaka Addresses Crowd Over Heckler

Tennis star loses match, was brought to tears in Indian Wells, California
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 13, 2022 9:00 AM CDT
Heckler Rattles Naomi Osaka
Naomi Osaka of Japan speaks to the crowd after losing her match to Veronika Kudermetova of Russia at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament Saturday in Indian Wells, Calif.   (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Tennis great Naomi Osaka was clearly disturbed by a derogatory comment from a spectator Saturday night en route to a loss at a tournament in Indian Wells, California. ESPN reports that after a woman shouted, "Naomi, you s---" from the stands in the first set, a rattled Osaka stopped play and asked the umpire if the fan could be removed. At a later break, she asked for a microphone to address the crowd mid-match, but both requests were denied. Her Russian opponent, Veronika Kudermetova, won the match at the BNP Paribas Open 6-0, 6-4, per CNN. “I didn’t hear what lady say," said Kudermetova, "but after that moment, I saw that Naomi, she start to cry.”

Osaka, who has previously stepped back from the game while battling anxiety and depression, was allowed to address the crowd after the match ended. "To be honest, I've gotten heckled before, it didn't really bother me," she said, her voice breaking. "But [being] heckled here—I watched a video of Venus and Serena [Williams] getting heckled here, and if you've never watched it, you should watch it. I don't know why, but it went into my head, and it got replayed a lot. I'm trying not to cry."

As the AP notes, the reference is to 2001, when the Williams sisters were loudly booed at Indian Wells. The heckling came after Venus withdrew because of injury before a semifinal match against Serena. When Venus and her father took their seats to watch Serena play in the final, fans jeered them and later, Serena. You can get a sense of it in this video. Both sisters then boycotted Indian Wells for years, and Serena said in an interview last year that it was still "traumatizing," per ESPN. (Osaka previously balked at the requirement that players must address reporters immediately after a loss, citing the mental toll.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.