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Tennis-Osaka knocks Stephens out on a windy day in Indian Wells

Tennis: BNP Paribas Open Day 4
March 10, 2022; Indian Wells, California, United States; Naomi Osaka (JPN) bats against Sloane Stephens (not pictured) in their first round match during day four of the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

March 11, 2022

By Rory Carroll

INDIAN WELLS (Reuters) – Naomi Osaka battled windy conditions and an in-form Sloane Stephens to claim a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 first-round win in Indian Wells on Thursday.

In a showdown by former US Open winners, Osaka struggled in the first set amid powerful squalls in their first match since January.

After a lackluster first set, Osaka flipped a switch in the second to take a 4-0 lead when her serve and defense suddenly improved.

Osaka lunged at a short ball from Stephens and her sweeping backhand volley hit the line to level the match at one set apiece.

Stephens, who won a title in Guadalajara last month, led 2-0 and had break point chances to make it 3-0 in the third but failed to convert.

That would prove crucial as Osaka used the momentum to win their last six games and sealed their first career win over the American when her forehand failed to clear the net on match point.

“I haven’t played at Wind for a while, so this was very new to me,” Osaka said in an interview on Stadium Court.

“I felt like I was fighting for my life. I played against them, I played against this wind. it was crazy

“But I kept thinking she was going through the same circumstances as me, so I just have to push myself to try as hard as I can.”

A four-time Grand Slam champion, the former Japanese world number one has dropped to 78 after taking a break from tennis after last year’s US Open to prioritize her mental health.

Before starting the tournament, which she won in 2018, she said she had a new perspective on tennis and was “at ease with me”.

Next up for Osaka is a second-round match against Veronika Kudermetova.

(edited by Robert Birsel)

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