Naomi Osaka made a tearful exit from her second-round match against Veronika Kudermetova at the Indian Wells 2022, after she was reduced to tears by a heckler. Osaka was visibly rattled by the incident as she couldn’t recover from it and eventually lost the match 6-0, 6-4.
The spectator yelled “Naomi, you suck” during the first set. Osaka was shaken by the taunt and even asked the chair umpire to intervene, she then broke down during the changeover after being down 0-3 in the first set and even asked the umpire if she could address the spectator, but her request was denied. Her emotions spilled over as she got bagelled in the opening set, she made an improvement in the second but eventually couldn’t catch up with the Russian.
The spectator’s outburst might be put away as a soft taunt, but given her well-documented struggles with depression last year, Osaka was clearly rattled by it. Osaka missed the better half of last year citing mental health concerns and controversially pulled out from the French Open after refusing to attend mandatory media pressers.
“I don’t know why, it went into my head and it got replayed a lot“- Naomi Osaka reveals why she was upset by the heckling
After she lost the match, Osaka asked for the mic to address the crowd, a rather unusual one as only the winning player is allowed to give an on-court interview. The 4-time Grand Slam champion then gave an emotional interview and explained the reason behind her emotional breakdown. The former World No.1 said the incident triggered memories of the taunt faced by Serena and Venus at the Indian Wells in 2001.
“To be honest, I’ve gotten heckled before, it didn’t really bother me. It’s 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. I don’t know why, it went into my head and it got replayed a lot. I’m trying not to cry. I just wanted to say thank you and congratulations,” she said.
During the Indian Wells semi-final in 2001, Venus Williams was set up for a clash against her sister Serena. But she withdrew from it just minutes before it started, citing a knee injury. This caused outrage among the fans as they accused Venus of gifting the win to Serena and criticized the sisters and other father’ Richard Williams, who was their coach back then, for staging an injury to allow Serena to progress to the finals.
Serena went on to clinch the title but faced boos from the crowd during the match. Venus and her father Richard, who were also in the player’s box cheering on Serena, were subjected to racial slurs and taunts. This incident haunted both Serena and Venus and they boycotted the tournament for 15 years before making a comeback in 2016