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Red-hot Osaka shows no mercy against Serena

China Daily | Updated: 2018-03-23 09:47
File photo of Serena Williams. [Photo/Agencies]

Young upstart overpowers idol in first round of Miami Open

KEY BISCAYNE, Florida - The match ended with Serena Williams grinning at the net.

She saved her worst shot for last, and after a rare first-round defeat she had to laugh.

Still rusty in her return from pregnancy, Williams was unable to overcome a tough opening draw at the Miami Open on Wednesday, losing 6-3, 6-2 to Japan's Naomi Osaka.

On the final point, Williams thundered forward to attack an easy shot at eye level, whacked the ball six feet past the baseline and responded with a sheepish smile.

Not that motherhood has mellowed Williams - she left without talking to the media.

The 20-year-old Osaka, who earned her first career title last Sunday at Indian Wells, said she was nervous playing her idol for the first time and only wanted to avoid Williams winning 6-0, 6-0.

"She's the main reason I started playing tennis," Osaka said. "I just wanted her after the match to know who I am."

Mission accomplished.

So what did Williams say when they shook hands?

"She said 'good job' and stuff," Osaka said. "I kind of blanked out, but I'm pretty sure she said 'good job.'"

Osaka, who has both American and Japanese citizenship and lives in nearby Fort Lauderdale, raised her profile with last week's title run and showed no signs of letup in overpowering the erratic Williams.

Osaka had the stronger serve and wore down Williams in the rallies, working her from side to side.

The matchup worthy of a final came about because both players were unseeded. Osaka is ranked a career-best No 22, while Williams' ranking is 491st after a layoff of more than a year.

Another new mother and former world No 1, three-time champion Victoria Azarenka, defeated Catherine Bellis 6-3, 6-0.

Seeded players start playing on Thursday.

Williams has been eliminated in the first round only four other times, most recently at the 2012 French Open.

The latest loss came at a tournament she has won a record eight times and considers her hometown event.

The match was the last for Williams at Key Biscayne, 90 miles south of her home in Palm Beach Gardens.

Next year the tournament is moving to the new home stadium of the Miami Dolphins, where Williams helped with the ceremonial groundbreaking on Monday. Because of Williams' ranking, she entered the draw as a wildcard, and looked the part.

She needed only eight shots to win the first five points, but then things became much more difficult. Playing her fourth match since returning to the tour, Williams was a step slow to balls in the corners and often late with her swing, while she put barely half her first serves in play.

Early in the second set she resorted to her patented scream of "Come on!", but failed to turn things around. Osaka was heartened that she provoked Williams to shout at herself.

"Sometimes she plays matches where she doesn't say 'Come on!' at all," Osaka said. "That's a little bit sad, because it's like, 'Do you think she's trying?' So I just wanted her say 'Come on!' once. I knew then maybe she would be trying a little bit."

Williams tried, but typical of her struggle was an exchange midway through the last set. She scrambled forward to scoop a ball back, retreated to hit an awkward, lunging overhead, and then stood and watched helplessly as a crosscourt forehand from Osaka whizzed past for a winner.

Osaka's serve reached 116 mph, and she was never broken. When Williams pushed her to deuce three times in one game, Osaka closed it out with consecutive aces.

"Sometimes when I'm in a really hard position when I'm serving, I'm like, 'What would Serena do?'" Osaka said.

That approach has served Osaka well. She's 14-4 this year and will next face fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina as the tournament's new player to beat.

Associated Press

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