Thursday, March 10, 2022 - Naomi Osaka plays against Sloane Stephens in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Kathryn Riley/BNP Paribas Open)
Returning to the BNP Paribas Open for the first time in three years, Japan’s Naomi Osaka overcame American Sloane Stephens in a battle of former US Open champions, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, on a windy afternoon at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
That the opening-round blockbuster between these former Top-5 foes — two of the WTA Tour’s most adept ball-strikers — would go the distance came as little surprise to the Stadium 1 crowd on Thursday. What was surprising was how Osaka, trailing 0-2 in the telltale third set, managed to reel off six unanswered games to seal the one-hour, 53-minute match.
“I haven’t played in wind like that for a while, so this was very new to me,” said Osaka. “I felt like I was fighting for my life. I was playing against her; I was playing against the wind. It was crazy. I just kept thinking she was going through the same circumstances as me, so I just had to will myself to try as hard as I could.”
Osaka was returning to the site of her breakthrough title of 2018, which would see her follow up with back-to-back majors at the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open. Now a four-time Grand Slam champion, she has fallen to No. 78 in the rankings.
Sloane is such a champion,” said the 24-year-old Osaka, who narrowed her deficit against Stephens to 1-2. “Hopefully, next time we play will be in more ideal conditions. But it was great to be out here again.”
American Shelby Rogers erased a 1-5 third-set deficit to prevail against Spain’s Nuria Parrizas Diaz, 6-1, 5-7, 7-6(3), in two hours and 49 minutes, while Amanda Anisimova dispatched fellow American Emma Navarro in just 53 minutes, 6-2, 6-2.
Also advancing on Thursday were: Kazalhstan’s Yulia Putintseva (def. Ashlyn Krueger, 6-3, 6-2), Poland’s Magdalena Frech (def. Mayar Sherif, 6-2, 7-5), Czech Tereza Martincova (def. Heather Watson, 6-2, 2-1), Australia’s Daria Saville (def. Shuai Zhang, 6-3, 6-2), Belgian (def. Alison Van Uytvanck, 7-6(3), 6-4), and Italy’s Jasmine Paolini (def. Katie Boulter, 6-3, 6-2).