For the second consecutive event, Serena Williams crashes out early, this time in the opening round which she hasn’t done in 21 years on an American hardcourt! She lost, not surprisingly perhaps, to the in-form Naomi Osaka who arrived for the WTA Mandatory Miami Open event having won Indian Wells last Sunday for the first title of her career.
It's weird playing against someone who you've grown up watching. There's a respect thing but you also want to win really bad. I just wanted her to know who I am Naomi Osaka
Many believe Williams should have received a seeding in respect of her status in the game and as a former eight-time champion but her 13-month absence from the tour to have a baby, has meant the former world number one’s ranking plummeting into three figures.
The 21-year-old from Japan made the most of the opportunities which the 36-year-old American offered through her shortage of match play which was evident in her lack of mobility and stamina in rallies.
The match, their first career meeting, remained on serve in the first set until the Indian Wells champion and world number 22 forced break point opportunities at 3-3 which she eventually converted with a blistering backhand, taking the first set after a lengthy back-and-forth deuce battle
Her big serve and relentless return game proved even stronger in the second as she broke to move 3-1 ahead to stride happily to record her first win over her tennis idol after 77-minutes, 6-3 6-2.
Williams refused to attend the mandatory post-match press conference and will no doubt receive a $10,000 fine for the misdemeanour by the WTA. She did however, release a statement some 90-minutes after the match which simply said: “Every tournament is an opportunity for me to better understand the areas I need to improve to be my best. Naomi played a great match and I look forward to continuing my return by progressing every day. I am so grateful for my fans who continue to support me every step of this incredible journey.”
Osaka, understandably, was delighted at her win and the progress she is making on the big world stage.
“I was nervous but once the match started I was OK,” she said. “Serena is the main reason why I started playing. I have seen her on TV so many times, so for me to be playing against her, trying to detach myself from the fact I was playing Serena, was hard. It took me three games (to get her head around it).
“It was a different type of nerves. I have never been like that against a specific person. The final in Indian Wells was different because I had never been in that position.
She added: “I was new to the tour when she left after the Australian Open, so to shake her hand at the end was pretty cool. She said, ‘Good job,’ but I kind of blanked out.
“It’s weird playing against someone who you’ve grown up watching. There’s a respect thing but you also want to win really bad. I just wanted her to know who I am.”
That point has certainly been made.
In other action, another former world number one Victoria Azarenka, a three-time Miami champion, eased into the second round with a 6-3 6-0 win over American Cici Bellis. In what was her second tournament since taking an eight-month break to focus on a custody battle, the Belarussian commented: “I’m happy that I’m playing. I don’t want to be over-the-moon happy, because I’m still in the tournament, and I want to continue to reach any heights and new goals.”
Meanwhile the 16-year-old Amanda Anisimova injured an ankle during her first-round 6-3 1-6 6-2 win over China’s Wang Qiang, preventing her from facing the third seeded Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza.
Britain’s own rising star, Katie Boulter, who arrived in the main draw via the qualifying event, lost her first round match with Su-Wei Hsieh from Taipei. The 21-year-old, from Leicestershire, ranked 189, did push her opponent ranked 128 places above her, hard before falling 6-4 7-5.