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Osaka edges Stephens in marquee Indian Wells opener; Anisimova, Kostyuk, Rogers advance

Naomi Osaka scored her first career win against Sloane Stephens in three tries with a three-set comeback in Round 1 of the BNP Paribas Open. Amanda Anisimova, Marta Kostyuk and Aliaksandra Sasnovich also advanced to the second round on Thursday.

It was the most-anticipated opening clash at the BNP Paribas Open, and Naomi Osaka had a comeback victory worthy of the match’s pedigree.

In her first match since the Australian Open, Osaka overcame both Sloane Stephens and blustery conditions, winning the last six games to seal a 1 hour, 53-minute comeback, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.

The win is her first victory against Stephens in three tries, and marks a winning return for the 2018 champion in Indian Wells; she didn’t play last year’s edition when it was rescheduled to after the US Open, and lost in the fourth round in 2019.

“Honestly, I didn’t know what the score was. I had to ask [coach] Wim [Fisette] afterwards. I was just really concentrating on trying my best on every point,” Osaka said in victory.

“As tight as I was in the first two games of the final set, I just figured that I learned from every match that I play and I learned a lot from my three-set match against [Amanda] Anisimova in Australia. I told myself that I would have opportunities for sure and I just need to capitalize on that. I knew I was hitting a lot of double faults in the first game of the third set, so I was just trying to fix that first of all.”

“To play against Sloane, she just won a tournament and I’m sure she’s feeling really confident with herself, that was a really good test for me. But at the same time I do need to play a lot more matches and I do need to give myself the opportunity to get more into the swing of things.

“I feel like I played well in Australia, but I keep taking these long breaks and I’m aware that I’m taking them, but hopefully, I’ll get more into the flow of things with this U.S. hard court swing.”

The two hadn’t played since the 2018 WTA Finals in Shenzhen, and Osaka lost the pair’s first-ever meeting in Acapulco, Mexico back in 2016. Far off their career-high rankings of World No.1 and World No.3, respectively, Osaka (now No.78) and Stephens (now No.38) battled through swirling winds inside Stadium 1, as sustained gusts in the desert wrecked havoc on their service tosses and ball bounces on the court.

“It was a bit frustrating but it was also funny at the same time because there was debris flying around the court. I’ve also never played a match that was that windy, so it was also a new experience,” Osaka said.

“I was just grateful that there were fans watching the match. Apparently, it was very cold so the fact that they stuck around really meant a lot to me.”

In a match that saw runs of games for both players, Osaka led 3-1, 30-0 in the first set before Stephens won five straight games. Osaka rebounded by winning the first four games of the second set, where she held from 15-40 at 1-0 and 0-40 at 4-1, and later saved three break points serving at 0-2 in the decider to kick off the comeback.

A former champion in the California desert, Osaka advances to a second-round meeting with No. 21 seed Veronika Kudermetova. The two have never played; however, they were slated to play in the semifinals of the Melbourne Summer Series 1 in January before Osaka withdrew due to an abdominal injury.

Ukrainian Kostyuk, Ukraine-born Belgian Zanevska share emotional moment

While Ukraine wasn’t listed next to both of their names on the scoreboard, compatriots Marta Kostyuk and Maryna Zanevska had the most emotional moment of Day 2.

Current events are affecting both players: Zanevska, born in Odesa but playing under the Belgian flag since 2016, still has family living in Ukraine, as she revealed in an Instagram post last week. And as Kostyuk told press after the match, the war at home was at the top of both players’ minds as they took the court.

The 28-year-old Zanevska, who won her first WTA singles title in Gdynia, Poland last July, was a point away from her first main-draw win at a WTA 1000-level event in her first appearance in Indian Wells in eight years. But Kostyuk, the higher-ranked of the two players, rallied for victory.

The World No.54 saved two match points in the second-set tiebreak and came from 5-3 down in the third set to seal a 6-7(5), 7-6(6), 7-5 comeback.

“Honestly, in the current mental state that I’m in, it was very tough to go on court. I didn’t know what to expect from myself, I didn’t know what to expect from my body. When I woke up this morning I thought, ‘I’m not going to do it, I can’t win it,'” Kostyuk said.

“I just tried to find a way. She was playing amazing tennis. My main goal was to fight and I fought. It was a tough comeback. … Everyone is fighting how they fight. My job is playing tennis and this is the biggest way I can help in the current situation.”

After 3 hours and 9 minutes, one of the longest matches of the season thus far, the tears flowed from both, and they shared a long embrace.

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