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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, March 18, 2018

 
Naomi Osaka

In a clash of talented 20-year-olds, Naomi Osaka outclassed Daria Kasatkina, 6-3, 6-2, in the Indian Wells final powering to her first career championship.

Photo credit: Dan Huerlimann/Beelde Images

Scanning the solitude of the locker room before the biggest final of her career, Naomi Osaka was struck by a sense of loneliness.

On court, Osaka exuded the power of one in a crowd-pleasing performance.

Watch: Indian Wells Final Live Blog

In a clash of talented 20-year-olds, Osaka outclassed Daria Kasatkina, 6-3, 6-2, in the BNP Paribas Open final charging to her first career title with complete conviction.

"I just thought that she was a super good player, too, she beat a lot of good players to come here," Osaka told ESPN's Pam Shriver afterward. "She probably wasn't gonna give me a lot of balls, so I just had to stay super-consistent and not give her a lot of balls too."




This was a dynamic and dominant coming-out party for a player who owns the weapons to be a future major champion.

The 44th-ranked Osaka pumped five aces, won 23 of 29 first-serve points, denied three of four break points and won nine of the last 11 games in an impressive tear to the title.

The first unseeded finalist since 2005 blasted through seven matches dropping only one set.

Osaka crushed three current or former world No. 1 players—Maria Sharapova, Karolina Pliskova and top-ranked Simona Halep in a 6-3, 6-0 thrashing—and barely looked fazed doing it.

The inspired run earned her a champion's check of $1.3 million—nearly matching her career prize-money total of $1.4 million— and will spike her ranking to a career-high No. 22.



The opening game and post-match victory speech that she called "probably the worst acceptance speech of all time," were the only times Osaka showed nerves.

In a contrast of styles that may well be a preview of future major finals, Osaka overwhelmed Kasatkina in all areas of the game. It wasn't surprising Osaka erupted in point-ending power, what was stunning was the patience Osaka showed waiting for the right time to strike.

"Basically she was much better today than me, so she really deserved to win," Kasatkina said. "Yeah, of course I think we were both nervous at the beginning, because the biggest finals so far.

"But, during the match she was able to manage her nerves and stuff, and I was still a little bit tight during the match. So it is what it is."

Champions recognize pivotal points and act accordingly.

Osaka elevated her level in the seventh game scorching an ace to erase a break point then belting a backhand navigating a gritty hold.



The 19th-ranked Russian wasn't doing much wrong, but she wasn't pressing the issue in points either, playing cautious tennis as if waiting for Osaka to implode.

Commanding baseline rallies, Osaka threaded the needle bending an open-stance backhand bolt down the line to break at 15 for 5-3.

Forced several feet behind the baseline, a reactive Kasatkina couldn't get off defense. On her second set point, Osaka blistered a backhand winner down the line serving out the set at 15.




On overwhelming Osaka hit 11 more winners—14 to 3—charging to a one-set lead.

Osaka produced a higher level in a disruptive four-game spurt that left a rattled Kasatkina looking a little confused.

"You're a little bit too shy," Kasatkina's coach, Philippe Dehaes, said. "This is about you."

Really, it was all about Osaka.

Yet Kasatkina, who played such clever combinations and used her deceptive drop shot to great effect toppling Venus Williams, could not produce the necessary finesse to withstand the pressure and Osaka's heavy baseline blasts.


Kasatkina committed her first double fault donating the break to start the second set. Osaka rushed through a quick hold confirming the break—her fifth consecutive game—for 2-0.

Even when Osaka hit the occasional double fault, she often offset it with aces. Powering through a two-ace game, the world No. 44 stretched her lead to 3-1.

Osaka's damaging crosscourt forehand was so disruptive, Kasatkina began leaning right. Osaka cornered the Russian with a sharp crosscourt blow then launched a jolting forehand winner down the line breaking for 4-1.




To her credit, Kasatkina hung tough in the seven game tripping a backhand down the line off the top of the tape to hold for 2-5. By then, Osaka had won half of the points played on her opponent's serve (17 of 34) and stepped up to serve for the biggest title of her career.

Dialing up a 118 mph ace, Osaka erupted with a piercing "Come on!"

A Kasatkina error brought her to double championship point. Osaka swept a backhand swing volley winner closing with a smile as the sixth different woman to raise the BNP Paribas Open trophy in the last six years.

 

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