Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka proved on Wednesday afternoon that she is suffering no hangover from winning her maiden WTA title in California just three days ago, with the Japanese easing past eight-time Miami Open champion Serena Williams to reach the second round of the tournament.
It was Osaka, an unseeded champion at the BNP Paribas Open last week, who was the one finding it tough in the early stages of the match, though the 20-year-old slowly worked her way into top form, and eventually far too much for Williams, who struggled heavily with her movement as the match progressed. Osaka eventually prevailed 6-3, 6-2 in an hour and 17 minutes, not dropping her serve once in a strong performance.
In-form Osaka survives early pressure to break down Williams
Following Osaka’s aforementioned victory in the Californian desert on Sunday, this was the one opening round match that captured everyone’s attention when the draw was made, as it pitted arguably the greatest tennis player of all time against one of the sports most promising stars; on this occasion it was the latter, perhaps due to having more match fitness, that prevailed.
Williams lost to sister Venus in the third round of Indian Wells, and looked more than ready to bounce back from that defeat in the early stages, forcing the Japanese to save a break point early on and looking solid on serve throughout the opening stages. Osaka was, however, able to stay level throughout the opening six games, and then cranked up the pressure; she forced a few errors out of the American for the first time, and broke for a 4-3 lead. The Japanese consolidated comfortably to lead 4-3, and a growing number of errors from Williams handed Osaka a second break, and the set.
After such a strong end to the opening set, Osaka remained in control of the early stages of the second set, dominating play as she rebounded from missing an early break point at 1-0 to eventually break for a 3-1 lead in the second. Williams had a break point, her first since Osaka’s opening service game of the match, to get back on level terms, but was unable to convert it as the Japanese held after a lengthy game to secure a commanding 4-1 lead. Now struggling, Williams was able to hold to stay in touch, but could do little to challenge Osaka by this stage, and the Japanese held and then converted a second match point on her opponent’s serve to reach the second round.
The win over Williams was the seventh in a row for Osaka, and her win over the American was also a fourth over a world number one in that run; the Japanese beat former number ones Maria Sharapova and Karolina Pliskova, as well as current world number one Simona Halep, in Indian Wells. Osaka undoubtedly impressed in what could have been a tough match today, though faces another tricky opponent in fourth seed Elina Svitolina next. Svitolina poses a different type of challenge than Williams, and it will be interesting to see how she fares against the Ukrainian.