Naomi Osaka brought to tears by heckler
Japan’s Osaka, ranked 78th in the world after her third-round exit at the Australian Open, was rocked early in the first set when someone in the crowd yelled “Naomi, you suck.”
She pleaded with the chair umpire to take action to no avail, and at 0-3 down in the second-round match, her emotions spilled over.
Osaka pulled herself together and resumed the match, but Kudermetova, the 21st seed, raced through the opening set before Osaka managed to hold serve to open the second.
Although she lifted her game, Osaka couldn’t capitalize on any of her four break points in the contest, and a break of serve in the seventh game of the second set was enough for Kudermetova to capture the victory.
Osaka put athlete mental health in the spotlight in a difficult 2021 in which she revealed she had suffered depression.
But speaking on court after the match she said it wasn’t that she found the comment so hurtful that she was upset, but because it reminded her of Venus and Serena Williams being heckled at Indian Wells in 2001.
“To be honest I feel like I’ve been heckled before it didn’t really bother me,” she said.
“But, like, I’ve watched a video of Venus and Serena being heckled here.
“If you’ve never watched it you should watch it,” she added, tearing up again.
“I don’t know why, but it went into my head and it got replayed a lot.
“I’m trying not to cry,” she said, her voice breaking.
“I just have to say thank you and congratulations,” she added with a nod to Kudermetova. “Thank you.”
Years of boycott
The superstar Williams sisters boycotted Indian Wells for 14 years over the events of 2001.
Venus had pulled out of a semifinal match against her sister with a knee injury.
The next day Serena faced Kim Clijsters in the final, and when Venus and their father Richard Williams took their seats the crowd jeered them, going on to boo Serena throughout the match.
The jeering continued after Serena won and went to embrace Venus and Richard Williams courtside, with Richard saying he was the target of racial slurs.
With Osaka’s defeat the women’s field in the prestigious WTA and ATP Masters hard court tournament lost another big name.
Aryna Sabalenka, at number three the highest-ranked woman in the field, crashed out of her opening match as Italian Jasmine Paolini rallied for a 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 triumph.
Sabalenka was seeded second in a tournament missing both world number one Ashleigh Barty and second-ranked Barbora Krejcikova.
Both were late withdrawals, Barty saying she hadn’t had time to prepare after her Australian Open triumph and Krejcikova with an elbow injury.
Sabalenka’s exit opens things up for former world number one Victoria Azarenka, seeded 13th, and sixth seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, both in the same quarter of the draw.