What was shouted at Naomi Osaka, and how did she respond?
Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka is a supreme athlete and sporting talent, yet some people still believe it's fine to yell abuse at her during a game.
Last year Naomi Osaka was ranked world number two in women's tennis, and got back on court at the Olympic Games after pulling out of the French Open on mental health grounds and also missing Wimbledon. On Saturday, though, the 78th ranked player was reduced to tears after someone in the crowd yelled at her during a game at Indian Wells.
What Osaka had to say about Indian Wells heckler
Osaka heard the abusive shout from the stands during her 6-0, 6-4 defeat at the hands of Veronika Kudermetova in the second round. As can be heard in the clip below, just as her opponent was readying herself to serve, "Naomi, you suck!" was yelled, followed by some very disapproving noises from the crowd.
An advocate for mental health issues, Osaka attempted to speak directly to those gathered but was unable to convince the umpire to allow that, but later on the court she did address those watching, giving some background to what that heckle did to her mind.
"To be honest I feel like I've been heckled before [and] it didn't really bother me," she explained. "But, like, I've watched a video of Venus and Serena being heckled here," referencing an incident in 2001 when Serena Williams was booed and jeered, after accusations had been made about manipulation of the competition from the Williams camp.
"If you've never watched it you should watch it," Osaka said to the crowd, as she teared up again. She then went on to congratulate her opponent Kudermetova on the victory.
Who is Naomi Osaka?
Osaka was born in Osaka, Japan to a Japanese mother and a Haitian-born father in 1997. She later moved to the US she moved to the US when she was three years old. Growing up, Osaka – who has dual citizenship - lived on Long Island before moving to Florida with her family.
Who are Naomi Osaka’s parents?
The Grand Slam winner’s parents are Tamaki Osaka and Leonard Francois.
Francois is the one who encouraged his daughters Naomi and Mari to pursue tennis, using instructional books and DVDs at first.
‘I don’t remember liking to hit the ball. The main thing was that I wanted to beat my sister. For her, it wasn’t a competition. Every day I’d say, “I’m going to beat you tomorrow”,’ Osaka once told the New York Times.
Her parents also inspired her to play for Japan. ‘My dad thought that since I grew up around my mom and I have a lot of Japanese relatives… I don’t know… I don’t necessarily feel like I’m American. I wouldn’t know what that feels like,’ she told the NYT.
Instead of taking their father’s last name, Osaka and her sister use their mother’s Japanese name.
Tamaki met Francois in Japan when she was in high school and he was in college. The two dated in secret for years, and Tamaki's family didn't speak to her for about a decade and a half when they learned of her relationship with Francois. The couple moved to Long Island to live with Francois' family when Naomi was a child. But the family reconnected with Tamaki's family in 2008.
Naomi's older sister Mari is also a tennis player (and, in case you're wondering, yes, they have drawn comparisons to Venus and Serena Williams). She's currently ranked #350. The two sisters are extremely close and best friends off the court and they play doubles on the court, too.
Why does Osaka represent Japan?
Despite having grown up in the US the majority of her life, she represented Japan in the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in August 2021.
In 2019, the athlete announced she would relinquish her US citizenship in order to represent Japan, telling Japanese broadcaster NHK, per the BBC’s translation: ‘It is a special feeling to aim for the Olympics as a representative of Japan.
‘I think that playing with the pride of the country will make me feel more emotional.’
Osaka began representing Japan in junior tournaments when she was just 10 years old. ‘We made the decision that Naomi would represent Japan at an early age,’ Osaka's parents told the publication. ‘She was born in Osaka and was brought up in a household of Japanese and Haitian culture.’
Champion on and off the court
Since defeating Serena Williams in a highly contentious US Open final in 2018, Osaka has gone on to show the world she’s a champion both on and off the court, signing numerous fashion partnerships with luxury brands like Tag Heuer and becoming one of tennis’ most vocal supporters for racial justice.
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