October 6, 2022

Naomi Osaka gets derailed by heckler, cries and loses at Indian Wells

Naomi Osaka, of Japan, leaves the court after losing her match to Veronika Kudermetova, of Russia, at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament Saturday, March 12, 2022, in Indian Wells, Calif. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

First she cried. Then she lost.

Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka, back on the court after a mental health break, was apparently derailed by a heckler Saturday as she played against Veronika Kudermetova at the Indian Wells Masters, now known as the BNP Paribas Open, outside Palm Springs.

The heckle came as Osaka was losing 3-0 against Kudermetova, reported TMZ.

“Naomi, you suck!” shouted a woman in the stands.

While other spectators drowned the heckler out by chanting in support, the 24-year-old went on to lose the ensuing matches after tennis officials refused to let her speak to the crowd. She tearfully served the next game but never fully regained her psychological footing.

“I just want to say something,” she told the umps, according to TMZ. “I’m not going to curse. I don’t curse. It’s just weighing on my heart.”

They refused, though promised to boot the woman if she yelled out again. Osaka, who’s 24, got her moment after the losses, as she struggled not to weep.

“I feel like I’ve cried enough on camera,” she said with a little laugh, wiping away tears.

“To be honest, I’ve gotten heckled before, like it can’t really bother me,” she continued. “But, heckled here? 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.”

She said thank you and congratulated her opponent, then exited as on-court interviewer Andrew Krasny offered perspective.

“On behalf of everybody here that out of about 10,000 people, one person’s voice can’t weigh out 9,999 others. And we love you here,” he said.

Indian Wells is where Serena and Venus Williams and their father, Richard Williams, had years earlier been heckled with racist allegations and accusations that they were fixing matches. Serena Williams did not play at the venue for another 14 years.

It’s also where Osaka burst onto the world stage four years ago, at age 20, by beating four reigning champions to become just the third-ever unseeded player to take the title at Indian Wells.

Osaka had famously taken a mental health break from playing last year, incurring a $15,000 fine for refusing to participate in after-match press conferences, and this was the first time she had played since the Australian Open more than two months earlier.

Saturday’s episode belied the confidence Osaka had projected just a few days before the tourney.

“Honestly, I feel like I’m at peace with myself, which I think is a really good feeling to have as a person,” Osaka told the Women’s Tennis Association in an interview last week. “I’m really grateful [for the fans’ support]. It really meant a lot to me.”