Looking back at Naomi Osaka's first career title - Indian Wells 2018

Naomi Osaka's first title was at Indian Wells 2018
Naomi Osaka's first title was at Indian Wells 2018

Naomi Osaka is one of the most high-profile absentees from the upcoming BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. That is particularly unfortunate since Indian Wells is the site where Osaka won her first WTA title, back in 2018.

Following a fairly decent 2017 season, the Japanese had a good start to 2018. Osaka reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time that year, at the Australian Open.

But what was to follow in the North American desert was even more monumental.

Unseeded at Indian Wells, Naomi Osaka's first-round match was against five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova. In a match filled with several momentum shifts but one consistently superior player, the Japanese defeated her celebrated opponent 6-4, 6-4.

Osaka's second-round match was against the crafty Agnieszka Radwanska. She started the match on a bad note, getting broken in her opening service game, but that was only a minor blip. The then 20-year-old eventually cruised to a routine 6-3, 6-2 win.

Her third-round encounter against Sachia Vickery proved to be quite tricky. The first set was quite a battle, with Osaka needing almost an hour to win it 6-3. But she played much better in the second set and ended up winning the match by a deceptive scoreline of 6-3, 6-3.

Indian Wells 2018 was the first time Naomi Osaka progressed beyond the 3rd round of a Premier Mandatory event

Indian Wells 2018 was the turning point in Naomi Osaka's career.
Indian Wells 2018 was the turning point in Naomi Osaka's career.

Naomi Osaka's fourth-round match against Maria Sakkari was arguably her toughest. The Japanese started out well, winning the first set 6-1 without even facing a break point. She would go up a break early in the second set too, but Sakkari produced an incredible fightback to win it 7-5.

The Greek couldn't keep the comeback going though, and Osaka broke her thrice in the final set to win the match 6-1, 5-7, 6-1.

Naomi Osaka faced World No. 5 Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals, but she looked totally unfazed by the opposition and the stage. Osaka comfortably defeated the Czech 6-2, 6-3, in what was then her third career top 10 win.

Up against World No. 1 Simona Halep in the semifinals, who had had a brilliant start to the season, Naomi Osaka was expected to see her fairytale run come to an end. However, the Japanese played her best match of the tournament to thrash Halep 6-3, 6-0 - her first win over a No. 1 player - to silence the doubters.

In the biggest final of her career - her first at a Premier Mandatory event - Naomi Osaka was up against fellow youngster Daria Kasatkina. Osaka seemed to be affected by nerves in the early going; she was slow off the blocks and lost her opening service game. But she responded by immediately breaking back, and remained focused after that to win the first set 6-3.

Osaka thoroughly outclassed her opponent in the next set to win the match 6-3, 6-2, and with it the first title of her career. Needless to say, that run marked a significant turning point in her career.

The Japanese had proved herself on one of the biggest stages in the sport, producing some brilliant tennis against six of the best players in the game. Osaka has won six more titles since then, including four Grand Slams.

Edited by Musab Abid
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