INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Former No. 1 women’s tennis player Naomi Osaka was brought to tears by a heckler during her match at the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday and addressed the crowd after her second-round loss.
The Japanese star was rattled after a spectator yelled, “Naomi, you suck,” after she lost the first game of her match against Veronika Kudermetova in the tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Osaka, a four-time majors champion who has struggled with her mental health, fought to regain her composure and asked the chair umpire, “can I borrow your microphone?” to address the crowd during the middle of the match, The Washington Post reported.
The request was denied, but after her 6-0, 6-4 loss to No. 1 Kudermetova, Osaka did take the microphone to speak to fans, according to the newspaper. Wiping away tears, she said, “I feel like I’ve cried enough on camera.”
“To be honest, I’ve gotten heckled before, it didn’t really bother me,” Osaka said, her voice breaking. “But (being) heckled here, I watched a video of Venus (Williams) 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. I just want to say thank you and congratulations (to Kudermetova). Just thank you.”
Osaka did not speak with reporters afterward, the Post reported.
“I didn’t hear what (the) lady say because I really so focus(ed) on my game, on my serve game, I didn’t understand what she say,’’ Kudermetova told reporters after her victory. “But after that moment, I saw that Naomi, she start to cry.”
The Williams sisters and their father, Richard Williams, were jeered at the Indian Wells event in 2001, the Los Angeles Times reported. Venus Williams, suffering from a knee injury, had pulled out of a semifinal match against her sister. Serena Williams was booed when she took the court for her final-round match against Kim Clijsters, and fans jeered her sister and father when they took their seats for the match, according to the newspaper.
Serena Williams did not play in the event again until 2015, and her sister returned the following year.
Osaka, whose ranking has dropped to No. 78, was unseeded this year at Indian Wells, an event where she made a major breakthrough by winning her first WTA singles title in 2018 as an unseeded player, The New York Times reported.
She has struggled since winning her last major title at the Australian Open in 2021, ESPN reported. Osaka withdrew from the French Open before her second-round match, skipped Wimbledon and then announced she was taking an indefinite break from the sport after her third-round loss at the U.S. Open in September. Osaka played in the Tokyo Olympics but lost in the third round, the Post reported.
At this year’s Australian Open, Osaka lost in the third round to Amanda Anisimova.
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