Naomi Osaka was reduced to tears after being heckled during her second-round defeat to Veronika Kudermetova in Indian Wells.
The Japanese player, who missed parts of the 2021 season to look after her mental health, was jeered early in the matchon and it was undoubtedly a major factor as she lost 6-0, 6-4 to the world No 24.
A spectator reportedly shouted: “Naomi, you suck,” with Osaka complaining to the umpire, and as she went to serve at the start of the third game, she was visibly crying. Clearly affected, she lost the first set without winning a game, before putting up a better fight in the second.
Osaka made the unconventional decision to stay on court and be interviewed after her loss, saying said that the incident reminded her of a video she watched of Venus and Serena Williams receiving abuse at the same venue in 2001.
The Williams sisters boycotted the event – widely regarded to be the biggest outside of the four grand slams – for 14 years after being racially abused 21 years ago. Speaking through tears on court, Osaka said: “I just wanted to say thank you, I feel like I cry enough on camera.
“To be honest, I’ve been heckled before, it doesn’t really bother me, but being heckled here, I watched a video of Venus and Serena getting heckled here, if you’ve never watched it you should watch it and I don’t know why, but it got into my head and it got replayed a lot.”
Osaka was playing her first tournament since the Australian Open in January, where she lost in the third round. The 24-year-old, who has won four grand slam titles, withdrew from the French Open and then missed Wimbledon last year after revealing her mental health issues.
She returned for the US Open in September but said she would take another hiatus after an early loss, saying: “When I win I don’t feel happy.”
Russian Kudermetova, playing under a neutral banner due to her country’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, said: “Naomi was reminded of something that happened with Serena here a few years ago. She started to cry because it is similar to what’s happened with Serena. But it doesn’t matter. I know she’s strong, a great person. I think it will be good with her.”