Naomi Osaka clinched the first title of her career by defeating fellow 20-year-old Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 6-2 in the Indian Wells final on Sunday, becoming the first Japanese woman to lift the trophy in the California desert.
Osaka is the youngest Indian Wells champion since Ana Ivanovic in 2008 and will rise to a career-high ranking of 22 on Monday.
She is the fourth unseeded finalist in the tournament’s history and the first unseeded champion since Kim Clijsters in 2005.
Her victory over Kasatkina was her sixth against a top-20 player in 2018 and caps a tremendous fortnight for Osaka, who also upset Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep en route to the title.
Kasatkina, who will be ranked a career-high No. 11 on Monday, was contesting a second consecutive final, having finished as runner-up in Dubai last month. The Russian fell behind to a 1-3 win-loss record in career finals following her loss on Sunday.
Kasatkina came within two points of losing her semi-final against Venus Williams on Friday, but recovered to post a fifth top-10 victory of the season.
Osaka was playing her first final in 18 months, with her sole other appearance in a title match coming in the Tokyo Pan Pacific Open in 2016.
It was the first time both Indian Wells finalists are aged under 21 since Serena beat Clijsters in 2001.
Osaka began to introduce herself during the trophy ceremony before realising everyone in the stadium already knew who she was.
“Hi I’m Naomi, okay never mind,” she said with a laugh.
“I would like to thank Dasha for being super nice and a really cool person. I would like Dasha’s team because they’re super nice too. Congrats.
“This is probably going to be the worst tennis speech of all time,” she nervously added.
Osaka had a nervy start, hitting unforced errors on her first three points on serve to face triple break point. Kasatkina missed on the first two but another Osaka error handed the break over to the Russian.
A cleverly-angled crosscourt forehand from Osaka saw her gain two break points in the next game and the Japanese broke on her second opportunity to draw level.
Osaka broke for a 5-3 lead and got her hands on triple set point the next game. A big forehand return from Kasatkina saw her save the first but a backhand winner from Osaka, her sixth of the match thus far, gave her the opening set.
Kasatkina hit just three winners and 11 unforced errors in that set. She looked deflated compared to her other inspired performances throughout the fortnight against the likes of Venus, Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki and Sloane Stephens.
The No. 20 seed was broken in the first game of the second and Osaka went up a double-break to open up a 5-1 lead.
Osaka got her first match points two games later and snatched the title with her 17th winner of the contest.
“First of all congrats to Naomi and to all your team, you are doing a great job guys, congrats. It’s a shame you didn’t show me your tweener today,” Kasatkina said during the trophy ceremony, referring to the video in which she attempted to teach Osaka the ‘tweener’ shot.
“Of course thanks to my team. My coach Philippe, my brother Alex, my fitness coach isn’t here but still I love him so much. Thanks to my family and all my close friends, thank you so much guys, thanks for all the support.
“The last thing I want to tell you, never give up, believe in your dreams, just keep going. Dream and do it.”
INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA — Roger Federer will face Juan Martin del Potro for a 25th time in their professional careers in the Indian Wells final on Sunday – a match-up the Swiss describes as an “arm wrestle”.
Federer, the defending champion in Palm Springs seeking a sixth Indian Wells crown, has a long history with Del Potro and leads the tall Argentine 18-6 head-to-head.
But Del Potro has always played him tough and has pulled off the upset over Federer on some of the biggest stages in the sport including a US Open final victory in 2009 for his sole Grand Slam triumph, and more recently a quarter-finals success over the Swiss, also at the US Open, last year.
Before the tournament, Del Potro had told reporters how much he values his rivarly with Federer and that, “if I had to take one match or one opponent to play in a final I would take Roger for sure.”
“Is that a good thing?” asked Federer with a smile when told what Del Potro had said about him.
“I think we have an interesting match-up,” added the 36-year-old Federer.
“We both know what the other is trying to do, and we try to stop the other person from doing it. But it’s hard when me or him is in full flight. It’s basically an arm wrestle the whole time, and I think we enjoy that.
“We know each other well. I think we respect each other in a big way. We’re both happy for one another, I think, when we do well, generally happy.
“So it’s nice to see him back in the top 10 and making big strides now, and I think he’s going to have a great season. I’m very happy for him.”
Del Potro reached his second career Indian Wells final on Saturday with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Milos Raonic. Back in the top-10 and seeded No. 6 in the California desert, Del Potro is on a 10-match winning streak, having won the title in Acapulco earlier this month, and has notched a 400th career victory to join Guillermo Vilas as the only Argentines in the 400 wins club.
The 29-year-old from Tandil is seeking a first Masters 1000 crown. He was the runner-up here in 2013.
Federer is on a winning streak himself and has started a season with a clean 17-0 record for the first time in his two-decade-long career.
“Took a while. Took a while to get the record,” Federer, who came back from a set and a break down to defeat Coric on Saturday, said with a grin.
“But, no, I’m happy. Look, especially also with the match, it was just a fighting match rather than, like — it didn’t come easy, so I had to go get it. Also got a little bit lucky, of course, throughout the match.
“I hung tough and put a lot of effort into it to get the record, if you like. I mean, you go from one to the next. Clearly, the focus has to be the finals right now and not enjoying the record.
“But it’s nice to get off to a good start this year, and I hope I can play well again tomorrow.”
Roger Federer has taken his undefeated start to the season to a stunning 17-0 for the first time in his career thanks to a battling victory over unseeded 21-year-old Borna Coric in the Indian Wells semi-finals on Saturday.
The Swiss, a five-time champion in the California desert, is one step away from a 28th Masters 1000 title and a 98th career trophy.
Federer is into the final at Indian Wells for a fourth consecutive time (missed the 2016 tournament) but had to do it the hard way as he climbed from 5-7, 2-4 down, and twice canceled a break down in the final set, to secure a comeback win over the Croatian youngster, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in 2 hours and 20 minutes.
“I needed to fight a little bit. Trying to keep the ball in play. Borna was incredibly steady. It was tough for me to accept and move on but I was happy to stay in the game and stay in the rally. He got a bit nervous and I got a bit lucky as well,” said the 36-year-old Federer, who was given a rare 11:00am start and joked that he “had pasta at 9:15am”.
The defending champion entered the match having won 38/41 sets contested this year, but that changed when Coric broke late in the opening set to jump to an impressive yet unexpected lead.
The pair were neck and neck throughout the first 10 games before Coric created the first break point opportunity of the match at 5-5. Federer saved it with a good serve but got in trouble moments later. This time Coric converted with a cunning passing shot that dipped low and drew the error from Federer who netted his response.
Serving for the set, Coric went up 40-0 and secured his lead on his second chance.
The young Croat broke to start the second set and consolidated for a 2-0 advantage. He faced triple break point in game four but heroically saved all three to go up 3-1 and deny Federer a chance back in the contest.
The Swiss again had a chance to break in Coric’s next service game but that too slipped away and the youngster maintained his lead.
Federer kept up the pressure on the Coric serve, and this time, the forehand let the Croatian down as he allowed the top seed to finally break back on his sixth break point opportunity of the match.
A netted backhand saw Federer get his hands on two set points on the Coric serve and the world No. 1 leveled the match on an overcooked forehand from his opponent, taking a fourth straight game to force a decider.
Coric broke at love to start the third set but a signature backhand passing shot from Federer helped the Swiss to a break point in game two. The retaliation came immediately and they were back on level terms.
Point of the match!
Federer earns himself a break point at 30-all and he converts, drawing back even in the third vs. Coric.
He then holds, so we’re back on serve — *1-2 Borna serving. #BNPPO18
— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) March 17, 2018
Coric saved a break point to hold for 2-all then got a chance to break in game seven as he drew the error from Federer at the net. The 36-year-old saved it but he hit a wide forehand on the next break point to give Coric a 4-3 lead.
Federer roared in the next game when he out-rallied Coric for break point. A crying baby possibly disrupted Coric and he ended up double-faulting to hand over the break back.
Serving to stay in the match, Coric crumbled allowing Federer safe passage to the final.