Twenty-year-old Daria Kasatkina was tight. Fellow 20-year-old Naomi Osaka pretended she wasn’t, and that made the difference.
The unseeded Osaka won her first career title on Sunday at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, rolling over an out-of-sorts No. 20-seeded Kasatkina 6-3, 6-2.
“I don’t really know what’s going on right now,” said the player who represents Japan, of Haitian-Japanese ancestry, who was raised in Florida. “I really feel like I have another match I have to play tomorrow, and it didn’t really sink in that I won.”
She was broken in the opening game of the match but from 3-all Osaka dominated while Kasatkina failed to play with confidence. The Russian sank lower with every missed drop shot and struggled to find her touch.
Osaka is the sixth different Indian Wells champion in six years and the first to win an initial title at Indian Wells since Daniela Hantuchova in 2002.
“I was extremely stressed and extremely nervous, but my plan was to fake that I’m very calm,” Osaka said after the match. “I just knew that she was going to fight for every point, too, so I couldn’t afford to lose points based on nerves, and I had to keep making the right decisions.
“I don’t know why I decided to serve first. We were playing some long points, and I wasn’t really trying to hit hard today, because I felt like it would be better for her to take my pace. I wanted her to do whatever she wanted to do, and I was just going to sit back and see what she does. I feel like I wasn’t that aggressive today. I was just more consistent.”
Kasatkina during the week had beaten reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens and former No. 1s Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams.
“Basically she was much better today than me, so she really deserved to win,” the Russian said. “I think we were both nervous at the beginning, because [this was our] biggest finals so far. During the match, she was able to manage her nerves and stuff, and I was still a little bit tight. She’s very powerful. She’s playing, serving good, and doesn’t have weaknesses. She’s hitting her forehand, backhand, so she’s really tough.”
Osaka en route to the final also took down an impressive line-up including current No. 1 Simona Halep, former No. 1s Maria Sharapova and Karolina Pliskova, and former No. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska.
“I really wanted to win this, but also I just tried to think it was a first-round match and just not psych myself out too much,” Osaka revealed of her approach to the final.
The two players will have plenty of time to reminisce about the final as they were planning on sharing a private jet to next week’s WTA stop, the Miami Open.
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