Naomi Osaka got emotional during a game against Veronika Kudermetova at the BNP Paribas Open in Palm Springs. The 24-year-old was openly crying after a nasty heckler yelled out, “Naomi, you suck” during the match on Saturday, March 13. The incident clearly affected the tennis pro — who has been open about her struggles with mental health — prompting her to ask for a break after the comment was made.
— NoFirstName claycourtdal (@SMSTNS) March 13, 2022
She was quick to defend herself, asking if the heckler could be removed from the stands. After Noami was told that it was difficult to know “who it was” that made the rude comment, she then boldly approaching the umpire to ask if she could use the mic to address the crowd. “Can I borrow your microphone?” Naomi could be heard saying to umpire Paula Vieira Souza, who asked what she wanted to say.
“I just want to say something. I’m not going to curse. I don’t curse. It’s just weighing on my heart,” she replied. Naomi then talked to WTA Tour supervisor Claire Wood, who would be overheard saying “If it happens again, we’re going to find him.” The ask to speak was denied mid-match, however, she was able to say a few words after losing the match to Veronika, also 24. The Russian super star took the game with a 6-0, 6-4 win, and will next face off against Marie Bouzkova.
Naomi Osaka didn’t deserve this… pic.twitter.com/sQLbjsT2p3
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In a rare occurrence, Naomi was able to speak after the loss — referencing tennis icons Venus and Serena Williams who experienced intense heckling at the same tournament. “To be honest, I’ve gotten heckled before, it didn’t really bother me,” the Grand Slam Champion explained, holding back tears.
“It’s heckled here, I’ve watched a video of Venus and Serena getting heckled here [in 2001], and if you’ve never watched it, you should watch it. I don’t know why, it went into my head and it got replayed a lot. I’m trying not to cry. I just wanted to say thank you and congratulations,” she added, leaving things on a positive note with her Russian competitor.
Notably, Venus and Serena didn’t return to the Indian Wells competition for nearly 15 years after the incident. At the time, Venus pulled out of the competition, she said, due to tendinitis. Serena later went on to say that the 2001 moment was a low point in her career.
Naomi has been open about her mental health challenges in recent months, which influenced her decision to withdraw from the French Open last year. “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,” she wrote in a statement in 2021, explaining that she had struggled with depression since the 2018 US Open. “I never wanted to be a distraction and I accept that my timing was not ideal and my message could have been clearer.”