INDIAN WELLS, USA – Unseeded Naomi Osaka beat Daria Kasatkina in a battle of the fast risers to claim her maiden and biggest title of her career to date at the BNP Paribas Open.
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Naomi Osaka def. Daria Kasatkina  6-3 6-2
At a time when the women’s tour has already witnessed changes at the top during Serena Williams’ maternity leave, we got a glimpse of the future for the tour as two of its fastest rising stars – Naomi Osaka and Daria Kasatkina – went head to head for the biggest final of their careers.
It was hardly surprising that there were nerves. Both racked up unforced errors in the opener, with Osaka effectively breaking herself before redressing the balance to break Kasatkina straight back. Osaka steadied the nerves a little more to become the first to hold.
With those opening nerves out of the way – the pair started to play a lot more competitively with Osaka looking very effective with the one-two punch, and also getting wise to Kasatkina’s changes of pace. Surprisingly though, the Japanese player was the first to face another break point in this more confident passage of play, saving it though to stay ahead on serve.
Coaching time-outs for the pair are telling as always with Sascha Bajin geeing up Osaka’s concerns that her lead was more down to Kasatkina’s errors, by telling her to shake up her serving, and to only worry about what she has to do. Meanwhile Philippe Dehaes looked to gee his charge up – ‘It’s about you – how many times in this situation’ and urging her to fight as she did coming from a set down in the semi-final.
Osaka started the more aggressive of the two at the start of the second set – broken at the start of the second set. Consolidating the break, Kasatkina did well to steady the ship and get on the board to stay in contention. By now Osaka was looking more and more ominous. A lob with no legs under it was duly punished, and a drop-shot that just dipped into the net put Osaka firmly ahead with a second break.
With clear water opening up now between the pair, Osaka delivered intent with a solid hold to love for a 5-1 lead. Kasatkina delayed the inevitable. With Osaka serving for the match, and the biggest win over her career. The errors would ultimately prove costly for Kasatkina, bringing up Osaka’s first championship point.
Although the end felt a little muted with a winner from Osaka, take nothing away from her mental attitude throughout the whole tournament. After going to hug Bajin and her entourage, Kasatkina also took a moment to go see her coach – with very different emotions on show.
Kasatkina is no stranger to finals already, having won in Charleston and made the final already once this year in Dubai, this was a tough one to lose, as she paid credit to Osaka in her post match press conference.
Kasatkina said: “She was much better today than me, so she really deserved to win. I think we were both nervous at the beginning, because the biggest finals so far. Yeah. But, during the match she was able to manage her nerves and stuff, and I was still a little bit tight during the match.”
She continued”: She’s very powerful. She’s serving good, doesn’t have weaknesses. She’s hitting her forehand, backhand. Yeah, so she’s really tough.”
During her speech at the trophy presentation, Kasatkina urged the crowd to never give up on their dreams and to keep going. These were certainly the qualities that she displayed throughout her semi-final match against Venus Williams, but it looked as though that might have just left her undercooked in the final.
“Let’s say I’m living by this sentence: Dream and do it. That’s it.”
Osaka: ‘Had to keep making the right decisions’
Osaka has impressed a lot this week with her mental fortitude throughout the tournament, but admitted that she had to keep a calm façade.
She told reporters: “I was extremely stressed and extremely nervous. But my plan was to, like, fake that I’m very calm. So I’m glad that you said that, so that means it worked. 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 just tried to think it was a first-round match and just not psych myself out too much.”
Just as she is hilarious in her press conferences, so the public got to see first hand the unfiltered Osaka as she giggled her way through her acceptance speech.
She said afterwards: ‘The thing is I prepared and everything, and I knew what I was going to say in which order. But then when he called me, I freaked out. And then I just started saying whatever came into my mind first, which is why I think I kept, like, stopping halfway through my sentences, because I just remembered something else I had to say. So, yeah, that was pretty embarrassing.”
Kasatkina and Osaka will be sharing a private jet to Miami where they will be competing next, with the Russian joking that she hoped they would get there without fighting too much, while Osaka smiled as she wondered whether Kasatkina would talk to her on the flight.
Either way, there will be a lot of anticipation as to what this pair can achieve, especially with back to back Premiers and the focus and attention that will now follow them around.
The Miami Open takes place between 21 March to 1 April.
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