Naomi Osaka Delivered A Tearful Speech After A Tennis Fan Heckled Her Mid-Match
It happened at the same venue the Williams sisters were heckled at.
Four-time Grand Slam tennis singles champion Naomi Osaka competed at Indian Wells for the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday, March 12, but her gameplay wasn’t what really got everyone talking. After she lost her first and second-round matches against Veronika Kudermetova, a tearful Osaka explained her focus was not 100 percent on the game due to a heckler that had shaken her up. Fans cheered and supported her speech, but the video of Naomi Osaka responding to a heckling fan is still sad to watch.
During Osaka’s first set, a woman in the crowd shouted, “Naomi, you suck!” Like Osaka, fellow audience members were also taken back by the taunt, per the New York Post. Halfway through the first set, Osaka asked the chair umpire if she could address the crowd, “Can I borrow your microphone?” Osaka asked. “I just want to say something. I’m not going to curse. I don’t curse. It’s just weighing on my heart.”
Despite not being given the microphone during the game, Osaka was granted the floor after the game. She approached the mic in tears, “I just wanted to say thank you. I feel like I’ve cried enough on camera. To be honest, I’ve gotten heckled before. It didn’t really bother me, but it’s like, heckled here,” she said, referring to the Indian Wells venue. “I’ve watched a video of Venus and Serena getting heckled here and if you’ve never watched it, you should watch it. And I don’t know why, but it went into my head and it got replayed a lot. I’m trying not to cry. I just want to say thank you and congratulations (to Kudermetova). Just thank you.”
The video that Osaka referenced is a 2001 video of Serena and Venus Williams competing at Indian Wells that shows the unsettling boos the sisters received from the crowd. The LA Times reported that Venus pulled out of the competition due to a knee injury, leaving sister Serena to compete in the final against Kim Clijsters.
As Venus and Richard Williams made their way into the stadium to support Serena, the two were met with a sea of boos. Serena said the experience made her feel “unwelcome, alone and afraid,” which ultimately led to her decision to not participate in Indian Wells for 14 years until 2015. Venus returned the following year in 2016.
Osaka has been really open about her mental health issues in the past and took a break from tennis in September 2021 after she lost the U.S. Open. “I feel like for me, recently, like when I win, I don't feel happy. I feel more like a relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don't think that's normal,” she said at the time. “[I’m] trying to figure out what I want to do. I honestly don't know when I'm going to play my next tennis match. I think I'm gonna take a break from playing for a while.”
It’s clear Osaka knows how to address the issues that affect her on the court with eloquence and grace, even if some so-called “fans” try to get to her.