Naomi Osaka clinched the first title of her career by defeating fellow 20-year-old Daria Kasatkina in the Indian Wells final on Sunday, becoming the first Japanese woman to lift the trophy in the California desert.
Naomi Osaka clinched the first title of her career by defeating fellow 20-year-old Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 6-2 in the Indian Wells final on Sunday, becoming the first Japanese woman to lift the trophy in the California desert.
Osaka is the youngest Indian Wells champion since Ana Ivanovic in 2008 and will rise to a career-high ranking of 22 on Monday.
She is the fourth unseeded finalist in the tournament’s history and the first unseeded champion since Kim Clijsters in 2005.
Her victory over Kasatkina was her sixth against a top-20 player in 2018 and caps a tremendous fortnight for Osaka, who also upset Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep en route to the title.
Kasatkina, who will be ranked a career-high No. 11 on Monday, was contesting a second consecutive final, having finished as runner-up in Dubai last month. The Russian fell behind to a 1-3 win-loss record in career finals following her loss on Sunday.
Kasatkina came within two points of losing her semi-final against Venus Williams on Friday, but recovered to post a fifth top-10 victory of the season.
Osaka was playing her first final in 18 months, with her sole other appearance in a title match coming in the Tokyo Pan Pacific Open in 2016.
It was the first time both Indian Wells finalists are aged under 21 since Serena beat Clijsters in 2001.
Osaka began to introduce herself during the trophy ceremony before realising everyone in the stadium already knew who she was.
“Hi I’m Naomi, okay never mind,” she said with a laugh.
“I would like to thank Dasha for being super nice and a really cool person. I would like Dasha’s team because they’re super nice too. Congrats.
“This is probably going to be the worst tennis speech of all time,” she nervously added.
Osaka had a nervy start, hitting unforced errors on her first three points on serve to face triple break point. Kasatkina missed on the first two but another Osaka error handed the break over to the Russian.
A cleverly-angled crosscourt forehand from Osaka saw her gain two break points in the next game and the Japanese broke on her second opportunity to draw level.
Osaka broke for a 5-3 lead and got her hands on triple set point the next game. A big forehand return from Kasatkina saw her save the first but a backhand winner from Osaka, her sixth of the match thus far, gave her the opening set.
Kasatkina hit just three winners and 11 unforced errors in that set. She looked deflated compared to her other inspired performances throughout the fortnight against the likes of Venus, Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki and Sloane Stephens.
The No. 20 seed was broken in the first game of the second and Osaka went up a double-break to open up a 5-1 lead.
Osaka got her first match points two games later and snatched the title with her 17th winner of the contest.
“First of all congrats to Naomi and to all your team, you are doing a great job guys, congrats. It’s a shame you didn’t show me your tweener today,” Kasatkina said during the trophy ceremony, referring to the video in which she attempted to teach Osaka the ‘tweener’ shot.
“Of course thanks to my team. My coach Philippe, my brother Alex, my fitness coach isn’t here but still I love him so much. Thanks to my family and all my close friends, thank you so much guys, thanks for all the support.
“The last thing I want to tell you, never give up, believe in your dreams, just keep going. Dream and do it.”