Naomi Osaka followed up her rout of the world number one with another devastating performance to claim the WTA Mandatory event In Indian Wells, quelling the challenge of another fast rising star Daria Kasatkina 6-3 6-2 to earn the first title of her career.
I really feel like I have another match I have to play tomorrow, and it didn’t really sink in that I won. I really wanted to win this, but also I just tried to think it was a first-round match and just not psych myself out too much. Naomi Osaka
Japan’s Osaka, the word No.44, needed just 70-minutes to dispatch her fellow 20-year-old from Russia, who was seeded 20, dropping just one set during the fortnight in what was a final between the two players who left a trail of higher ranked competitors in their wake as they made their way to the final.
Osaka’s victims included two-time winner Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska, the fifth seeded Karolina Pliskova and as mentioned, the world No.1 Simona Halep.
Meanwhile Kasatkina took out the US Open champion Sloane Stephens, the Australian Open champion and word No.2 Caroline Wozniacki, former world No.1 Angelique Kerber and the veteran 7-time grand slam champion Venus Williams.
“I beat very good players, and in the right moments I was doing the right decisions, so it means I’m growing as a player,” Kasatkina said. “This is the most important things for me.”
After exchanging early breaks in the opening set, Osaka pulled ahead with a backhand winner to go 5-3 up to serve out for the first set.
Both players were reassured during the changeover and of the two finalist, the words of encouragement had a greater effect on Osaka who immediately secured a 4-1 lead with a forehand winner down the line.
Osaka then delivered a love game to go up 5-1 and while Kasatkina held hers next, she was unable to prevent her opponent from closing out the final with a backhand winner that nicked the baseline for the biggest win of her career.
She also entered the record books as she became the first unseeded player since Kim Clijsters in 2005 and the second youngest since Ana Ivanovic in 2008. In addition, the youngter is the sixth different Indian Wells champion in six years and the first to win an initial title at Indian Wells since Daniela Hantuchova in 2002.
Financially she picked up $1,340,860 for the victory to virtually double her career earnings!
Unfortunately, her inexperience at making speeches became very evident but she that part of her ‘game’ will no doubt improve as the months progress.
“Hi, I’m Naomi,” she began, testing her wry sense of humour on the crowd. “OK, never mind,” she quickly blurted out but remembered, albeit hesitatingly, to thank everyone, describing her efforts as: “This is probably going to be the worst acceptance speech of all time.”
But she remembered to single out her opponent, Kasatkina. “I would like to thank Dasha for being super nice and also being a really cool person to play against. I’m pretty sure we’re going to play a lot of finals again.”
Finally, she stepped hesitatingly to the crystal trophy but refused to pick it up the heavy prize telling the crowd: “I think that’s it”.
Speaking after the match Osaka said: “I was extremely stressed and extremely nervous, but my plan was to fake that I’m very calm. I just knew that she was going to fight for every point, too, so I couldn’t afford to lose points based on nerves, and I had to keep making the right decisions.
“I don’t know why I decided to serve first. We were playing some long points, and I wasn’t really trying to hit hard today, because I felt like it would be better for her to take my pace. I wanted her to do whatever she wanted to do, and I was just going to sit back and see what she does. I feel like I wasn’t that aggressive today. I was just more consistent.”
Her victory however was still sinking in. “I don’t really know what’s going on right now,” she admitted. “I really feel like I have another match I have to play tomorrow, and it didn’t really sink in that I won” adding: “I really wanted to win this, but also I just tried to think it was a first-round match and just not psych myself out too much,”
Kasatkina was realistic. “Basically she was much better today than me, so she really deserved to win,” the Russian said. “I think we were both nervous at the beginning, because [this was our] biggest finals so far. During the match, she was able to manage her nerves and stuff, and I was still a little bit tight. She’s very powerful. She’s playing, serving good, and doesn’t have weaknesses. She’s hitting her forehand, backhand, so she’s really tough.”
No doubt the two will be discussing their respective efforts over the last fortnight as they make their way to their next major WTA event in Miami whilst sharing a private jet.