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Naomi Osaka taunted at Indian Wells, reminded of insults Williams sisters endured

Naomi Osaka holds back tears as she speaks to the crowd after losing her match to Veronika Kudermetova.
Naomi Osaka holds back tears as she speaks to the crowd after losing her match to Veronika Kudermetova at the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
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Naomi Osaka, distraught and in tears after a spectator yelled, “Naomi, you suck,” after she had lost the first game of her second-round match against Veronika Kudermetova at the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday night, said the taunt had shaken her because it reminded her of racially charged insults that were directed at Serena and Venus Williams at the same tournament in 2001.

Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam singles champion who has been open about her mental health struggles and took a break from competition last year, never recovered her poise Saturday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Kudermetova won the match, 6-0, 6-4.

Emma Raducanu, surprise winner of the U.S. Open last year at 18, has struggled since then as have many rising stars who have won Grand Slam titles.

March 12, 2022

Venus and Serena Williams and their father, Richard, were jeered here in 2001 after Venus pulled out of the sisters’ scheduled semifinal matchup at the last minute because of a knee injury. The crowd booed Serena when she took the court for the final against Kim Clijsters and booed Venus and Richard when they went to their seats to watch Serena contest the final. Serena didn’t play here again until 2015. Venus returned in 2016.

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After hearing the shout from a suite in Stadium 1 on Saturday, Osaka asked the chair umpire to be given the microphone to address the crowd. That request was denied. She also spoke to a tournament supervisor after the first set.

Osaka was allowed to speak after the match. When she did, she paused several times to gather her thoughts.

Naomi Osaka enters the BNP Paribas Open with confidence she can enjoy tennis again after sharing her mental health struggles last year.

March 10, 2022

“I just wanted to say thank you. I feel like I’ve cried enough on camera,” said Osaka, whose father is Black and mother is Japanese.

“To be honest, I’ve gotten heckled before. It didn’t really bother me, but it’s like, 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.

“I’m trying not to cry. I just want to say thank you and congratulations [to Kudermetova]. Just thank you.”

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