Osaka out of Indian Wells after heckling triggers memories of racism

Wilson Blade 9

In the second round of the BNP Paribas Open, the marquee night match between Veronika Kudermetova and Naomi Osaka quickly took a turn when a heckler shouted at Osaka early in the first set, leading the Japanese to begin crying as she tried to gather herself.

Naomi Osaka

The 24-year-old Osaka spoke repeatedly with the chair umpire and a WTA supervisor who was called to the court. The former world No.1 asked for the heckler to be removed and also requested the microphone to make a mid-match announcement to the crowd. The supervisor said she would identify and remove the heckler if it continued and denied the request to address the crowd.

Osaka struggled to get composure and lost the first set 6-0. She spoke with the supervisor and umpire again, but continued to play. She found strength at the start of the second set and played to 3-3, before Kudermetova broke for 4-3. Osaka was able to hold once more, but could not break back, losing the match 6-0 6-4.

After the match, Osaka again requested the microphone. The world No.78 addressed the crowd and explained what she experienced. Osaka recounted that she had been heckled before, but to hear any heckling at Indian Wells brought back memories of the heckling and verbal abuse Venus and Serena Williams experienced in the very same stadium. The incidents that Osaka referred to were the 2001 tournament, when Serena Williams and her family faced racist abuse from the crowd, leading her to boycott the event until 2015.

Osaka did not suggest that the heckling Saturday night was racist in nature, but rather explained that she had seen videos of the racism decades prior in that same space and it triggered an emotional reaction to remember what happened to the Williams family.


  1. I’m sorry, but she really needs to toughen up a bit if she wants to be a top tennis player. She says the heckling wasn’t racist, it was just ordinary heckling which happens in many matches. If the heckler was disturbing her during play then that is fair enough and a decision for the umpire. But if it upset her because of something that happened to someone else over 20 years ago, even if that was a nasty thing, then maybe she is just too sensitive to be playing in these big tournaments.

  2. It’s tennis, not beer guzzling, hot dog eating, yelling obscenities at the refs football. Why should any athlete be forced to listen to asshats in the stands like that?

    You have no idea what she can and can’t tune out and why. Throw out and ban ‘hecklers’.

  3. Why is tennis different from football? They are both spectator sports in which the audience gets involved. As I said, I’m all for hecklers getting thrown out if they are heckling during play, but if it’s in between play, and its not racist, then to me it is acceptable. Or do you think only quiet genteel people should be allowed to attend tennis matches?

  4. CLT :
    I want to SINCERELY apologize for calling you a “despicable person”…I acted/reacted out of anger when I read your comments and I (obviously) shouldn’t have done that and I should have expressed my disagreement in a respectful manner! Trust me : I really feel bad for calling you names and I regret it deeply and sincerely!

    You obviously have the right to your opinion/point of view, but I think you should try to show some empathy towards Naomi instead of saying she should just “toughen up a bit”.

    But once again : I’m truly sorry for what I said/my behavior!

    I hope you’ll accept my apology CLT and I hope you’ll forgive me!



  5. Hello,

    I also want to sincerely apologize to CLT for insulting him! It was wrong and childish of me and I shouldn’t have done it! I disagree with your comments CLT, but you DON’T suck!!!

    Please find it in your heart to forgive me CLT!


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