An emotional Naomi Osaka, fighting back tears, spoke out against heckling after a fan shouted a degrading comment during her match Saturday at the BNP Paribas Masters in Southern California.
The Japanese tennis star, who was knocked out of the match in Indian Wells after losing to Russia’s Veronica Kudermetova, took the mic and addressed the court’s spectators directly about the bullying while recalling past abuse inflicted upon fellow tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams at the same event.
“To be honest, I’ve gotten heckled before, like it didn’t really bother me,” the 24-year-old said after wiping away tears.
“But it’s heckled here,” she added. “I 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 got into my head and it replayed a lot. I’m trying not to cry.”
The Williams sisters and their father, Richard Williams, were verbally attacked at the Indian Wells tournament in 2001. The jeers, which Richard Williams said included racial slurs, came after a player publicly speculating that their father prearranged which sister would win in matches against each other, which the family denied.
Serena Williams, who did not return to the desert event for more than a decade, has said that the experience “haunted” her for years.
At Saturday’s event, a spectator had shouted, “Naomi, you suck!” after the opening game. Osaka, whose ranking by the Women’s Tennis Association has dropped from No. 1 to No. 78, requested that the spectator be removed and was told that if it happened again, the spectator would be, The New York Times reported.
Osaka has openly struggled with her mental health. She withdrew last year from the French Open in order to protect her mental well-being. She had said that she suffers from “long bouts of depression” and social anxiety, which is why she frequently wears headphones on the court.
Representatives of the Indian Wells tournament did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment Sunday about the event and its heckling policy.