Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka emotionally spoke out against heckling after being denigrated by a spectator during Saturday's match at BNP Paribas Masters in Indian Wells, California.
The four-time majors champion was playing against Russia’s Veronica Kudermetova in their first set when a woman yelled, "Naomi, you suck."
After Osaka lost to Kudermetova, Osaka asked the umpire if she could take the mic to address the crowd about something that was "on her heart."
While fighting back tears, the formerly ranked No. 1 by the Women's Tennis Association, talked about heckling and referred to the same abuse leveled at fellow tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams at the same event in 2001.
"To be honest, I've gotten heckled before, it didn't really bother me," she said
"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."
You can watch a clip of her addressing the crowd, here.
Osaka finished her speech by thanking her fans for their support and congratulating her opponent for winning the match.
In 2001, the Williams sisters and their father, Richard Williams, were subjected to verbal abuse at the same Southern California venue.
The heckling happened amid speculation that Richard fixed a match, which the Williams family denied.
Venus had withdrawn from her scheduled semi-final against Serena after sustaining a knee injury.
When Venus and their father sat down to watch Serena in the final against Belgian tennis player Kim Clijsters, the crowd booed and periodically heckled Serena throughout the match.
A video from the 2001 tournament can be seen, here.
As a result of the heckling–which Richard claimed included racial slurs–the family boycotted the event for 14 years, despite Indian Wells being a mandatory stop on the WTA tour since 2009.
A lot of comments on Twitter said heckling is part of being a star competitor and some sports fans suggested Osaka needed to grow "thicker skin."
However, plenty of supporters disagreed with the bullish mentality and came to defend Osaka.
More positive Twitter comments followed.
In 2021, Osaka announced she would not participate in any press events at the French Open in order to protect her mental well-being.
She elaborated her reason on social media, writing:
"I've often felt that people have no regard for athletes' mental health and this rings very true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one."
"We're often sat there and asked questions that we've been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I'm just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me."
"I've watched many clips of athletes breaking down after a loss in the press room, and I know you have as well."
"I believe that whole situation is kicking a person while they're down and I don't understand the reasoning behind it.