Osaka shocked at Indian Wells after abuse by heckler, Nadal stages spectacular comeback
INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA (AFP, REUTERS) - Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka was reduced to tears by a heckler on Saturday (March 12) on the way to a 6-0, 6-4 second-round loss to Veronika Kudermetova at Indian Wells.
The 24-year-old Japanese star, 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 was unable to convince the chair umpire to take action and at 0-3 down her emotions spilt over.
Osaka quickly pulled herself together and resumed the match, but even though she raised her game in the second set she could find no answer for Kudermetova, a finalist this year in the Melbourne Summer Set and in Dubai.
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 was not 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 before she congratulated the Russian on the win and departed the court.
Kudermetova, who had been looking forward to her first career meeting with Osaka, said she did not know what the spectator said, she just knew her opponent was upset.
"I didn't hear what the lady say because I really was so focused on my game, on my serve game, I didn't understand what she say.
"But after that moment, I saw that Naomi, she start to cry. I don't understand what's happen."
In the men's draw of the prestigious WTA and ATP Masters hard-court tournament, Rafa Nadal roared back from 5-2 down in the third set to defeat American Sebastian Korda 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (7-3) in the second round to remain unbeaten in 2022.
After cruising through the first set in 35 minutes, the Spaniard struggled to cope with a more aggressive approach from the 21-year-old who stormed through the second.
Nadal's normally solid serve let him down in the third and he committed his seventh double fault to fall two breaks down in front of a stunned crowd before fighting back to force a tiebreak.
The veteran was then much more composed and sealed the win when Korda's backhand landed wide.
"Everyone knows this is my favourite place to play and it is amazing to play in front of all you guys," Nadal told the supportive crowd under blue skies in the Southern California desert.
"I feel very lucky today to be through. Sebastian was playing some fantastic tennis. He had his chances, but that's tennis."
The loss will sting for Korda, son of former Australian Open winner Petr and who grew up idolising the 21-time Grand Slam champion and even named his cat after him.
With Osaka's defeat, the women's field lost another big name.
Aryna Sabalenka, at No. 3 the highest-ranked woman in the field, crashed out in 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 No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and second-ranked Barbora Krejcikova.
Both were late withdrawals, Barty saying she had not had time to prepare after her Australian Open triumph and Krejcikova with an elbow injury.
Sabalenka's exit opens things up for former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, seeded 13th, and sixth seed Maria Sakkari of Greece - both in the same quarter of the draw.
Sakkari opened her campaign with a 6-3, 7-5 victory over Czech Katerina Siniakova.
Azarenka, seeded 13th, beat Australian Astra Sharma 6-3, 7-5.
Spain's Paula Badosa kicked off her title defence with a 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) victory over Czech Tereza Martincova.
US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez of Canada saved four match points in the second set and won a tiebreaker to force a third before Amanda Anisimova retired because of illness.
Earlier on Saturday, newly crowned men's world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev dispatched Tomas Machac 6-3 6-2 to cruise into the third round.
Medvedev's powerful serve and almost impenetrable defence proved too much for the Czech qualifier to handle.
The Russian received a warm welcome from the crowd on Stadium One when he was introduced as the world's top men's player after the match.
"This is the first time I have heard this and people clapped so thanks a lot for the nice welcome," he said.