Naomi Osaka of Japan defeated American Sloane Stephens at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. After one hour and 53 minutes of play, the final score was a deceptively decisive looking at 3-6 6-1 6-2. Just as deceptively, Stephens is currently ranked #38 and Osaka is world #78. Regardless of their rankings and final score line, the match-up between the two Slam champs was worthy of an end round match.
The conditions were difficult in Stadium 1, with strong winds gusting all around and funneling to the court in unpredictable ways. As Osaka later said, “I’ve never played in a match that was that windy so it was a new experience.” Players routinely had to take multiple ball tosses, always politely apologizing to each other before making second and third attempts to control the ball in the air and hoping a breeze would not take it astray.
Despite the distracting and frustrating winds, Stephens managed an impressive 80% first serve percentage, compared to Osaka’s 51%. A key difference in the match-up was break points, with Osaka saving 12 of 17, while Stephens managed to save only 6 of 14.
Visibly frustrated after a triumphant second set, Osaka was down 0-2 at the start of the final set. Asked how she came back with six straight games, she explained, “I was really just concentrating to try my best on every point. As tight as I was in the first two games of the final set, I figured, I learn from every match that I play and I learned a lot from my three-set match against Amanda Anisimova in Australia. I just told myself that I’ll have opportunities for sure and will just capitalize on that.”
While it was not the result she wanted, Stephens was in good spirits when she met with press after her defeat. Citing the conditions she said, “It wasn’t an easy one, but I don’t think I played terrible. It was just a tough day.” With a positive perspective, she is setting modest goals for the year as she fights her way back up the rankings.
Osaka will face Veronika Kudermetova  in the second round. This will be their first ever meeting. (photos by Jimmie48)