She had mowed down the giants of the game over the last year and particularly last week and a half, but Daria Kasatkina met her match in a contemporary Sunday, as fellow 20-year-old Naomi Osaka was a little stronger, a little tougher and ultimately a little sharper in winning the BNP Paribas Open title, 6-3, 6-2.
Osaka’s first professional title was a big one in Indian Wells. With the $1.3 million first-prize check, she nearly doubles her career total of $1,483,053. And when the new rankings come out, Osaka will also see her ranking rise from No. 44 to 22. Doubling and halving in one day – not bad.
In post-match reaction reflective of their youth, both players were refreshingly unvarnished, Kasatkina’s voice wavering as she congratulated her opponent, thanked her team and spoke to the crowd.
“Never give up, believe in your dreams and just keep going,” Kasatkina said, and the advice could be applied to both players.
The unseeded Osaka, without a bye, had to win seven matches here, which is akin to a Grand Slam. But after nervously giggling through her thank-you’s and apologizing for “probably the worst acceptance speech of all-time,” said she was unconcerned about her ranking but rather wanted to continue playing the way she has in Indian Wells for the rest of the year and that the ranking would take care of itself.
“If you put in a lot of hard work, you can play well,” said Osaka, who has improved her fitness level, court coverage and with it, consistency to her power game over the last several months. “And if you try and believe in yourself, you can win too.”
The No. 20 seed, Kasatkina was the favorite here after upsetting four Top 15 players (and Grand Slam champions) en route to the final, including a dramatic three-set win over Venus Williams in a Friday night semifinal. Over the last year, Kasatkina has defeated all four reigning Grand Slam champs and No. 1 Simona Halep, and only three other active players have notched more wins over Top 2 players before their 21st birthday.
But it was a nervous Kasatkina playing for her second pro title Sunday and it showed, as she missed the margins on her groundstrokes and the quality of her trademark drop shots were just not there after an even start with Osaka. She would eventually lose nine of the last 11 games to Osaka.
“During the match, she was able to manage her nerves and I was still a little bit tight,” Kasatkina said. “So it is what it is.”
But it’s also history for Osaka: She is the first unseeded winner here since Kim Clijsters in 2005, youngest champion – at 20 – since Ana Ivanovic in 2008 and will become the highest-ranked Japanese player since 2009 when she enters the top 25.
She is also the first player in 16 years to win her first title in Indian Wells, Daniela Hantuchova having done so in 2002.
One of the biggest prizes in women’s tennis as your first-ever WTA trophy? That’s just how Naomi Osaka rolls, it appears.