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Rediff.com  » Sports » Red-hot Osaka powers past Serena in Miami

Red-hot Osaka powers past Serena in Miami

Last updated on: March 22, 2018 11:39 IST

After victories over former Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova, fifth seed Karolina Pliskova and world number one Simona Halep, 20-year-old Japanese scalps 23-times Grand Slam champion.

Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams

IMAGE: Japan's Naomi Osaka, left, is congratulated by Serena Williams of the United States after their match at the Miami Open on Wednesday. Photograph: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

Naomi Osaka continued her stunning run of form with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over 23-times Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in the first round of the Miami Open on Wednesday, the latest big win for the 20-year-old Japanese player.

Osaka backed up last week’s Indian Wells title triumph with a brilliant display in the eagerly-anticipated showdown on a day when former number one Victoria Azarenka also triumphed, while American Amanda Anisimova withdrew with an ankle injury.

The match, their first career meeting, remained on serve in the first set until the world number 22 forced break point opportunities at 3-3 and took advantage when the American was unable to deal with a blistering backhand at her feet.

Osaka was able to break Williams again after a back-and-forth deuce battle to take the first set, with her big serve and relentless return game proving even stronger in the second as she broke to move 3-1 ahead and never looked back.

The end of the contest was anti-climatic when an ugly unforced error by Williams, who hit a wide open forehand long, sent Osaka into a second round showdown against world number four Elina Svitolina of Ukraine.

“I was extremely nervous coming on to the court. I don’t know if anybody knows this but Serena is my favorite player,” Osaka said in an on-court interview.

“So just playing against her is kind of like a dream for me. I’m very grateful I was able to play her and it is even better that I was able to win.”

The 36-year-old Williams, playing her fourth match since the birth of her first child in September, is still working her way back into form and although she demonstrated her trademark power, she struggled to move smoothly around the court.

Naomi Osaka celebrates victory

IMAGE: Naomi Osaka waves to the crowd after beating Serena Williams at the Miami Open. Photograph: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

Osaka looked fresh despite having played seven matches in Indian Wells to capture her first career title on Sunday.

Some felt it was unfair that the Miami Open allowed the now unseeded Williams, an eight-times champion at the tournament, to play Osaka in the first round.

“Serena should have a special seeding, but also the (women’s governing body) WTA should use the most current ranking,” tennis commentator and former world number one Lindsay Davenport said on the Tennis Channel.

“The men do it. It’s too big a tournament to have something like this happen.”

Osaka’s win was her latest against one of the biggest names in the sport, coming hot on the heels of victories over former grand slam champion Maria Sharapova, fifth seed Karolina Pliskova and world number one Simona Halep in Indian Wells.

Three-times Miami champion Azarenka, in just her second tournament since taking an eight-month break to focus on a custody battle, showed good form in beating American Catherine Bellis 6-3, 6-0.

“I’m happy that I’m playing,” the Belarusian said. “I don’t want to be over-the-moon happy, because I’m still in the tournament, and I want to continue to reach any heights and new goals.”

Anisimova injured an ankle during her first-round win on Tuesday and the 16-year-old was unable to front up again a day later for her scheduled match against third seeded Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza.

Sousa beats Harrison to set up Goffin clash in Miami

Joao Sousa of Portugal hits a forehand against Ryan Harrison of the United States (not pictured) of on day two of the Miami Open at Tennis Center at Crandon Park on Wednesday

IMAGE: Portugal's Joao Sousa hits a forehand against USA's Ryan Harrison (not pictured) on day two of the Miami Open at Tennis Center at Crandon Park on Wednesday. Photograph: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Brazil's Joao Sousa edged American Ryan Harrison 7-6(4), 7-6(4) in first round action at the Miami Open on Wednesday as unseeded players enjoyed a day in the limelight in Florida.

The big names start their campaigns at the weekend, allowing the 80th-ranked Sousa to enjoy the prestige of a centre court showdown in only his second career meeting against 53rd-ranked Harrison.

The American saved three match points in a tight contest before the Portugal-born Sousa prevailed in a little less than two hours.

Next up for Sousa is Belgian seventh seed David Goffin, who is scheduled to return after a left eye injury that has kept him out for the past month.

Goffin incurred the unlikely injury during a match in Rotterdam when a ball bounced off his racket and struck him at high velocity.

While Harrison made a quick exit, fellow American Jared Donaldson fared better with a 6-3 6-4 win over Marcos Baghdatis, of Cyprus.

One break in each set was enough for the 49th-ranked Donaldson, who also saved eight break points.

Australian Matthew Ebden outlasted Gilles Simon, of France, 6-3, 6-7(2), 7-5 in more than two hours in a match that featured eight breaks of serve.

Edben, who lost to another Frenchman, Gael Monfils, in the first round in Indian Wells two weeks ago, fared better against Simon, particularly on the pivotal points.

The Australian converted five of his 11 break opportunities, while Simon could only take advantage on three of his 14 chances.

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