Second time lucky. In her second WTA final, Naomi Osaka won her first title ever. She dominated 6-3 6- Daria Kasatkina, who lost the third of her four title-match at WTA level. At 20 years and 153 days, the Japanese became the youngest champion at Indian Wells since Ivanovic in 2008 (20 years, 138 days).
Osaka maintained focus and drive to seal her sixth Top 20 win and clinch a new career-high ranking at No.22. Also Kasatkina, despite the defeat is projected to rise to a career-high ranking of No.11 and to overtake Kuznetsova becoming the new Russian No.1 for the first time.
Her speech, during the prize ceremony, was on the funniest moments of the tournament. Looking forlorn, she began with sparse, disordinate thanks while coach Sascha Bajin was caught predictably laughing. Osaka, who looked focused and cold throughout an impressive campaign, showed her first real sign of brief scare when they shot the coriander before lifting up the trophy.
It's the most surreal and anti-climactic ending for a magic campaign. On this day Maria Sharapova dominated 2006’s all-Russian Indian Wells final, brushing aside Elena Dementieva 6-1 6-2 to lift her second career title.
Kasatkina, the sixth Russian to reach the title-match here, Kasatkina forced Osaka to miss her opening three forehands in a row and managed to break immediately. Coming to the final on a high after the stunning semifinal and her fifth win over a top 2 (only Serena, Venus Williams and Sharapova among active players registered more of such wins before their 21st birthday) Kasatkina gave away the break back.
Tensions and pressure were inevitable presences in the first final at Indian Wells between two players aged 20 or under since 2001 (S.Williams d. Clijsters). Osaka, the fourth unseeded finalist in the tournament’s history after Byrne (1989 R-Up), Serena Williams (1999 champion) and Clijsters (2005 champion), the youngest since Wozniacki (19 years, 253 days) who finished runner-up in 2010 (l.
Jankovic), gradually found drive and measure off the forehand side. In her second WTA final since Tokyo 2016, the only other WTA event where Osaka made it past the quarter-finals, the Japanese struggled in the opening stages against the Russian, more focused in forcing her opponent to overthink than to play her own game.
The Japanese dispatched two-time Indian Wells champion Sharapova, 2014 finalist
Radwanska in the opening two rounds, back-to-back semi-finalist Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals and 2015 champion Halep in the semifinals, four players with a combined total of 103 wins in the tournament.
But, after clinching her second and third Top 5 wins in her career (also d. No.5 V.Williams at 2017 Hong Kong), Osaka looked tight, though her competitive spirit helped her in hitting an ace on break point and drill a down the line winner to hold to 4-3.
Kasatkina, who came within two points of defeat in the final set over Venus Williams on Friday before winning 12 of last 16 points, became even tenser and indulged in an untimely streak of loose errors. The Russian famously tried to give a lesson to Osaka on how to hit a proper tweener in a nice video on Twitter.
But the Japanese gave her a lesson on how to deliver a perfect down the line backhand winner, Kasatkina's best stroke, to break to 5-3. She then converted the second chance to seal the first set 6-3 in 39 minutes with another clean backhand winner, her 14th in the match to Kasatkina's 3.
Things became even worse for the he Russian, who committed 11 errors in the opening set and began the second trailing by a break. Kasatkina failed to get the expected errors while Osaka looked comfortable with the actual pace of the game.
The Russian didn't show her drop-shots, her variations and Osaka started to offer her free-flowing strokes and to increase the number of unreturned serves. With a perfect balance between power and consistency, Osaka broke again to 4-1.
Down 5-1, Kasatkina raised the aggression a bit and held with a good backhand winner. Osaka, again committing a double fault followed by an ace down the T, gained the final edge and seal the first championship point with a backhand volley that clipped the line.
Osaka will almost double her career prize money that stands at $1,483,053. And she's not going to stop. No retreat, no surrender. Sky is her limit. .