Naomi Osaka discusses training while in coronavirus lockdown
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Naomi Osaka was reduced to tears during her Indian Wells loss to Veronika Kudermetova. The world No 24 overcame the former champion 6-0 6-4 in 81 minutes but the first set was derailed when someone in the crowd started heckling Osaka. The four-time Grand Slam champion managed to put up a fight in the second set but her opponent was too strong, and Osaka addressed the crowd about the incident after the match.
Osaka has barely played since exiting the US Open in the third round last year, announcing after the match that she would be taking time away from tennis.
She made it to the semi-final of the WTA Melbourne event at the start of the season before withdrawing to give her Indian Wells opponent Kudermetova a walkover, before suffering another early exit in the Australian Open third round where she was defending champion.
Playing her first tournament in more than a month, the former world No 1 overcame 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens in a popcorn first-round clash 3-6 6-1 6-2 and looked up for the challenge of facing the 21st seed.
But early in the first set of her match against Kudermetova, Osaka was heckled by a spectator in the crowd who appeared to tell her: “Naomi, you suck.”
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The current world No 78 stopped the match to speak to the umpire about the incident, and proceeded to get broken as she found herself 0-3 and a double break down at the first set changeover.
She continued speaking with an official during the changeover, now fighting back tears during the match, but quickly went on to lose the opener 6-0.
It was a better performance from the 2018 champion in the second set but the 24-year-old outlasted her 6-0 6-4 to book her spot in the third round.
After the match, Osaka requested to address the crowd before Kudermetova’s victory speech, and explained why she was so bothered by the heckler.
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“Hi. I just wanted to say thank you. Yeah I feel like I’ve cried enough on camera but I just wanted to say,” she started, before being forced to cut her sentence short as she wiped her tears away.
“To be honest, I’ve gotten heckled before, like it didn’t really bother me.
“But heckled here [Indian Wells], I’ve watched a video of Venus and Serena get heckled here and if you’ve never watched it, you should watch it.”
Explaining that the previous incident had sidetracked her in the first set, she added: “And I don’t know why but it went into my head and it got replayed a lot.
“I’m trying not to cry. But I just wanted to say thank you and congratulations [to Kudermetova]. Yeah, just thank you.”
Osaka’s comparison to the Williams’ sisters incident has led many to speculate whether the heckler said anything more offensive to the 24-year-old.
In 2001, Venus Williams was forced to withdraw from her semi-final against sister Serena with a knee injury moments before the match.
It led to accusations from fellow player Elena Dementieva, who claimed the sisters’ father and former coach Richard of deciding who got to advance to the final and manipulating the outcome.
When Serena took to the court for her final against Kim Clijsters, with Venus and Richard sitting in her box, the trio were heavily booed by the crowd.
Although Serena went on to win the title, the Williams sisters boycotted the event for 14 years in response to the crowd, eventually returning in 2015.
“Talk about post-traumatic stress and mental anxiety,” the 23-time Grand Slam champion said last year as she recalled the incident in a Red Table Talk with Will Smith.
“It was so hard. I’ll never forget driving back, and [Williams’s sister] Yetunde was there, and I remember just getting in the car and I was just bawling.
“I was at the gas station, there was no celebration, and I was just crying and crying and crying.”
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