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Women's First Round: Former Champions Osaka And Wozniacki Triumph
3 Min Read · March 7, 2024

WTA players ranked No. 487, No. 287, No. 250 and No. 204 took to the court at the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday. Three of them won, which couldn’t have been called a surprise.


The quartet comprised of Naomi Osaka, Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Emma Raducanu, all former Grand Slam winners on the comeback trail. Osaka, who returned in January after giving birth to daughter Shai in July, beat Sara Errani 6-3, 6-1 on Stadium 1 after Williams lost to Nao Hibino. At Media Day this week, Osaka spoke about feeling right at home in Indian Wells, since she resides in nearby Los Angeles. Shai is with her at a tournament for the first time, while Tennis Paradise is also the home of Osaka’s maiden title claimed in 2018.


The Japanese megastar was also buoyed by her recent performance in Doha, a quarterfinal showing that boosted her ranking. The former No. 1 might have been half-joking when she said she was “really excited” about being in the Top 200 now.  Her ranking is actually still outside that classification, but with more matches under her belt, it’s only a matter of time before the 26-year-old climbs much higher.

“I’m really inspired by the players I watched while I was pregnant and I want to play against them,” said Osaka.

With Osaka’s penchant for crushing returns and Errani unable to generate the pace she would like on serve, the matchup seemed to heavily favor the 26-year-old — especially since she won their lone previous match in Miami in 2016, 6-1, 6-3.

Yet Errani is a Grand Slam finalist whose guile and spin can make up for a lack of power. On a blustery day in the desert, they traded four breaks in the first six games. But after Osaka saved two break points to lead 4-3, she took over. Osaka broke in breathtaking fashion for 2-1 in the second set, ripping a forehand return winner, backhand winner and a pair of forehand winners on the last four points against the now 36-year-old qualifier.

A big server, Liudmila Samsonova, awaits Osaka in the second round. In the immediate future, Osaka had other matters to attend to.

“I wasn’t looking forward to the diapers but now I’m thinking about it,” Osaka replied on court when the subject of changing diapers surfaced. “It’s really fun to be back playing tennis and I think when I go back home, I’m immediately in mom mode, and I don’t think there’s any other mode I want to be in.”

Nao Hibino Rallies Against Venus Williams

Venus Williams contested her first match since last year’s US Open, and things began well for the 43-year-old against Osaka’s fellow Japanese player, Nao Hibino. They resumed at 1-1 in the first set on Thursday after Wednesday’s rain.

Williams’ booming ground strokes were initially too much for Hibino to handle. When Williams seemingly hyper-extended her left leg late in the opening set, one couldn’t help but flash back to last year at Wimbledon. A fall on the grass impacted her knee and Williams didn’t play from early September to Indian Wells.

Hibino hung in there as Williams dipped. The 5-foot-4 baseliner ended up claiming the final 10 games. Seconds after Williams double faulted on match point, Hibino bowed her head when shaking hands with the seven-time Grand Slam winner. Williams smiled and waved to fans as she departed.

Wozniacki Prevails After Wednesday Postponement

Caroline Wozniacki clashed with China’s Lin Zhu was also cut short due to Wednesday’s rain. The Dane had won a tight first set 7-6 (6) in one-hour, 15 minutes before they were forced off but needed only 36 minutes to progress a day later. The 2011 champion in the desert, who gave birth to her second child at the end of 2022, collected her second victory of the season to set up a meeting with No. 25 seed Donna Vekic.

Wozniacki had been away from the game from 2020-2023. Now she’s up Friday on Stadium 1 against Croatia’s Donna Vekic.

More Desert Wins for Raducanu

Emma Raducanu — a wild card like Williams and Wozniacki — found joy in Indian Wells last year by making the fourth round. But Raducanu underwent surgery on both her hands and an ankle in the middle of last year, ruling her out for the rest of 2023. Raducanu showed once again how much she loves the conditions in the desert, beating Spanish qualifier Rebeka Masarova 6-2, 6-3.

If the 21-year-old gets another win against Australian Open semifinalist Dayana Yastremska in the second round, it would mark the 2021 US Open Champion’s first back-to-back victories since Indian Wells last season.

Emma Raducanu notched a first round win in the desert, the site of her best finish (fourth round) at a tournament in 2023.
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