Naomi Osaka has issued a classy response to an incident involving a heckling tennis fan that left her in tears at Indian Wells.
Controversy erupted earlier in the week when someone in the crowd repeatedly yelled “Naomi, you suck”, at the Japanese star during her shock second round loss to Veronika Kudermetova.
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After falling 0-3 down in the opening set, Osaka’s emotions spilled over and she was reduced to tears sitting by the side of the court.
Osaka then approached the umpire chair and asked if she could address the fan over the microphone, but her request was denied.
The 24-year-old quickly pulled herself together and resumed the match, but couldn’t find an answer to stop Kudermetova as she bowed out of the tournament 6-0, 6-4.
Following the match, Osaka explained that she hasn’t been bothered by hecklers in the past, but this time it was different.
Osaka said it wasn’t that she found the comment so hurtful but because she was reminded of how Venus and Serena Williams were targeted at Indian Wells in 2001.
“To be honest, I’ve gotten heckled before, it didn’t really bother me. 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, ”Osaka told the crowd.
“I don’t know why, but it went into my head, and it got replayed a lot. I’m trying not to cry. But I just wanted to say thank you and congratulations. ”
After Venus withdrew from her scheduled semi-final against Serena with a knee injury, the crowd booed Venus and father Richard when they took their seats to watch the final.
Fans jeered Serena as the match went on, while Richard said he was the target of racial slurs.
The Williams sisters famously boycotted Indian Wells for 14 years after the incident, only returning to the California tournament in recent years.
Osaka’s battles with mental health have been well documented, with the Japanese taking extended breaks from the sport to deal with the issue.
However, in a positive sign of where the 24-year-old’s head space is at after this latest ugly saga, Osaka issued a powerful message on social media.
“Very proud of myself for reaching a point in my life that despite the lows, I would still rather be myself than anyone else,” Osaka tweeted on Friday.
Fellow tennis players feel for Naomi Osaka
On Monday, Andy Murray answered a question about the Osaka incident and insisted that players shouldn’t be subjected to such behavior from fans in tennis.
However, Murray admitted you do have to be prepared for such heckling as a high-profile athlete.
Following his victory over Dan Evans in the Round of 64, Rafael Nadal also weighed in with his views on the ugly episode.
Nadal said it was a difficult question to answer and felt “terrible” for Osaka after the scenes that had unfolded.
But, the Spaniard echoed Murray’s sentiment that unfortunately such behavior is often part of the sport.
“The easy answer for me is I feel terrible about what happened, that should never happen,” Nadal said in his post-match press conference at Indian Wells.
“Even if it’s terrible to hear from that, we need to be prepared for that, no?
“At the same time, as we like a lot when people are supporting, when something like this happens, we need to accept and move forward, no?
“We need to resist these kind of issues that can happen when you are exposed to the people, no?”
Nadal wished Osaka the best and said he hoped she recovered from the incident.
“I understand that probably Naomi, suffered a lot with these, probably kind of issues that she has, mental (health) issues. The only thing that I wish her is recover well from that and wish her all the very best.
“But the life, nothing is perfect in this life, no? We need to be ready for adversities. ”
Mental health support for yourself or a loved one can be found by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14 Mensline on 1300 789 978, or Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800. Online support is available via Beyond Blue.
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