On Saturday (March 12) tennis champion Naomi Osaka was moved to address the crowd after being heckled by a woman in the stands. According to ESPN, during her second-round loss to Veronika Kudermetov at the BNP Paribas Open, the 24-year-old was met with harsh words from onlookers. Her request for the heckler to be removed and to address the crowd in between games were both denied.
She requested to speak to the audience after the match ended.
“To be honest, I’ve gotten heckled before, it didn’t really bother me,” shared an emotional Osaka. “But [being] heckled here, I watched a video of Venus 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.”
The taunting of the Williams sisters referenced by Osaka occurred at the same tournament over two decades ago. In 2001, Russian player Elena Dementieva accused Richard Williams of fixing matches after she lost to Venus. This resulted in loud boos from the crowd as Venus withdrew from the tournament due to injury as Serena went on to win against Kim Clijsters.
In an ESPN report published at the time of the controversy, the Williams patriarch alleged the crowd not only booed his daughters but also used racial slurs.
“The white people at Indian Wells, what they’ve been wanting to say all along to us finally came out: ‘N—–, stay away from here, we don’t want you here.'” He continued detailing how about a dozen onlookers used the racial slur against his family with one making a violent threat. Venus confirmed she heard the same things as her father.
The Williams sisters have openly supported Osaka on her journey through tennis stardom as the women all compete on the same court. In June 2021, when Osaka dropped out of the French Open for mental health reasons, she received love from her predecessor.
“I feel for Naomi,” expressed Serena according to TODAY. “I feel like I wish I could give her a hug because I know what it’s like. Like I said, I’ve been in those positions.”
She continued, “You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to, in the best way she thinks she can, and that’s the only thing I can say. I think she’s doing the best she can.”