Naomi Osaka brings Heckler to tears in Indian Wells

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Crying on the court after being heckled by a spectator, Naomi Osaka was eliminated from the BNP Paribas Open in t...


INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Crying on the court after being heckled by a spectator, Naomi Osaka was eliminated from the BNP Paribas Open in the second round on Saturday.

Osaka, the Japanese star who has struggled with his mental health and with ambivalence towards professional tennis, addressed the crowd directly at their request following their 6-0, 6-4 loss to No. 21 seed Veronika Kudermetova.

Fighting for her composure, Osaka explained that the rowdy, who shouted, “Naomi, you suck!” after the opening game, had her rewind images she had seen of Venus and Serena Williams being booed and jeered in Indian Wells at the tournament in 2001.

“To be honest, I’ve been heckled before, and it didn’t really bother me,” Osaka said. “But, like, heckled here? I 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 just got into my head, and it got replayed a lot,” she continued, apparently referring to Saturday’s game.

Osaka then thanked the crowd, slung her bag over her shoulder and left the field.

Osaka, a former No. 1 whose ranking fell to No. 78, was unseeded this year at Indian Wells, where she made a major breakthrough by winning her first WTA singles title in 2018 as a player. unclassified. She has won four Grand Slam singles titles, most recently at the 2021 Australian Open. But since then she has played infrequently and hasn’t won another event on the tour, or even reached another. final. Saturday’s loss was his last setback and his last moment of vulnerability in the public eye.

“I feel like I’ve cried enough on camera,” she said in tearful post-match remarks to the crowd. She skipped her post-match press conference.

After the tension of 2001, the Williams sisters did not return to the Indian Wells tournament for over a decade, with Serena won’t be back until 2015 and Venus in 2016. Serena, now 40, and Venus, now 41, are still active players, but neither are participating in the event this year.

During the Williams sisters’ early years as professionals, there was speculation on tour that their father and co-coach, Richard Williams, was plotting the results of their matches against each other. At Indian Wells in 2001, Russian player Elena Dementieva went public with her suspicions after losing to Venus Williams in the quarter-finals.

When Venus pulled out of the semi-final against Serena just minutes before the start, citing tendonitis in her right knee, the crowd responded with boos. Dementieva later insisted her comment had been a joke, and the sisters and Richard Williams denied that any of their match results were pre-arranged.

But two days later, Serena Williams was booed throughout the tournament final, and Richard Williams, who was watching from the stands with Venus, said he was racially abused. Serena Williams won in straight sets but said the experience was traumatic and had “haunted her” and her family for years.

Saturday’s circumstances looked very different. Osaka, 24, received overwhelming support from the overwhelming majority of the crowd. There were several thousand fans scattered in the stands of the 16,100-seat main stadium on a chilly evening, and after the heckler’s insult – clearly audible on TV broadcasts of the game – there were loud cheers for Osaka’s few winners in the opening set and even more support for her in stride as she raised her game.

Osaka defeated former US Open champion Sloane Stephens in straight sets in the first round on Thursday. But she faced another tough test in Kudermetova, a powerful, rising Russian she had never played in singles.

“I want to play this match because I want to see what I can improve, what I need to improve,” Kudermetova said. But the match ended up illustrating Osaka’s vulnerabilities and tennis weaknesses more than Kudermetova’s strengths.

Osaka took a three-month hiatus after losing to Leylah Fernandez in the third round of last year’s US Open, explaining that she no longer finds joy in competition. She returned to the Australia tour in January with a more upbeat frame of mind but was beaten in the third round Australian Open by American Amanda Anisimova.

Indian Wells was just Osaka’s third tournament in six months, and although she admitted she needed more matches to get back “up to speed”, she only got two from more here.

Kudermetova broke Osaka’s serve in the opener, and the spectator’s cry came as Osaka prepared to return the serve. She approached the chair umpire, Paula Vieira Souza, and appeared to ask to have the spectator ejected, but Souza politely refused. Kudermetova held serve and Osaka started to tear as she prepared to serve the next game.

“I didn’t hear what the lady said because I’m really focusing on my game, on my service game,” Kudermetova said of the heckler. “I didn’t understand what she said, but after that moment, I saw that Naomi, she started crying.”

After Osaka was broken again, she had another long chat with Souza, who reassured her that if the viewer heckled her again, the person would be identified and kicked out. Osaka asked if she could use the referee’s microphone to address the crowd directly.

Souza refused and WTA Tour supervisor Clare Wood was called to court and discussed the matter with Osaka as the player sat in her chair.

When play resumed, Osaka continued to struggle to find her lineup and lost the set at love. Wood spoke with Osaka again before the start of the second set, which was much more competitive. But Kudermetova broke Osaka’s serve in the seventh game and closed out her win.

Osaka shook her opponent’s hand and then waited for Kudermetova to give the usual winner’s on-court interview before heading to the microphone herself. Although Osaka thanked the crowd in her brief remarks, Osaka’s decision to link her treatment on Saturday to the experiences of the Williams sisters in 2001 was certainly an unwelcome link for tournament organizers.

Andrew Krasny, the BNP Paribas Open field interviewer, tried to reassure Osaka as she finished her remarks and headed for the exit.

“Out of about 10,000 people, one person’s voice cannot weigh on 9,999 others,” he said. “We love you here.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Naomi Osaka brings Heckler to tears in Indian Wells
Naomi Osaka brings Heckler to tears in Indian Wells
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