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Unseeded Osaka returns to stage of breakthrough title to beat Stephens and reach Indian Wells second round

Four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka made a triumphant return to Indian Wells with a three-set win over former US Open champion Sloane Stephens

Naomi Osaka (JPN) at the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Naomi Osaka (JPN) at the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Image Credit: AI / Reuters / Panoramic

WTA BNP Paribas Open Indian Wells 2022 | Results | Schedule

In 2018, Naomi Osaka came to Indian Wells ranked 44th in the world. The then 20-year-old went on to win her first career singles title at one of the biggest events in the tennis calendar in what would turn out to be a launchpad for her rise to the top.

Four years later, Naomi Osaka is back in Indian Wells for the first time since 2019; this time with four Grand Slam titles under her belt but with a ranking of No 78 after a difficult 12 months, which included her bringing the spotlight on mental health and taking time away from the sport.

On Thursday evening, Osaka took her first step towards what many hope will be her re-launch into the women’s game, beating former U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 in difficult windy conditions in a blockbuster first-round encounter at the BNP Paribas Open.

Naomi Osaka comes from a break down in final set to win

After dropping the first set to Stephens, who was coming off a title in Guadalajara, Osaka bounced back to win the second set. The Japanese player went down an early break in the deciding set but won the last six games to complete the win in one hour and 53 minutes.

Osaka converted eight of 13 break point opportunities while Stephens was able to convert just five of 17 chances she had on the Japanese player’s serve.

Osaka spoke about the difficult conditions in the match, saying she felt like she was fighting for her life on court.

“I haven’t played in wind like that for a while, so this was very new to me,” Osaka said as quoted by the BNP Paribas Open website. “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.”

She will next meet the 21st seed Veronika Kudermetova in the second round with a possible clash with 14th seed American Jessica Pegula looming ahead.

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