INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA – Naomi Osaka booked her place in the BNP Paribas Open final in emphatic fashion Friday night, powering past world No. 1 Simona Halep 6-3, 6-0 in the semis.
The hard-hitting 20-year-old showed supreme confidence, wrapping up the match in 64 minutes and avenging her loss to Halep in the fourth round at January’s Australian Open.
Osaka started on a strong note, opening the match with an ace after Halep won the coin toss and elected to test the world No. 44’s serve.
Things did not improve much from there for the Romanian, who committed 27 unforced errors and looked some way off recapturing top form in her return from a foot injury that forced her to withdraw from last month’s Qatar Open.
Osaka said she made a concerted effort to rein in her unforced errors following her defeat at the Australian Open, when Halep ran away with the match 6-3, 6-2.
“I just really wanted to get a lot of balls back, because in Australia I made too many unforced errors, and be really consistent on her return and not to give her any free points,” Osaka said.
Standing in the way of Osaka’s first WTA championship at Indian Wells is another 20-year-old, Russian 20th seed Daria Kasatkina, who prevailed 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 in a nearly three-hour semifinal battle with eighth seed Venus Williams.
After earning ovations throughout the tournament with her aggressive shot making, Osaka said she was happy to hear the center court crowd on her side against Halep.
“I’m really grateful about that and I’m also really happy that they were cheering for me,” she said.
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Osaka, whose path to the final included an opening-round win over former No. 1 Maria Sharapova, said the victory over Halep, her fourth top-10 victim, showed she was on the right path with her preparation.
“I was just trying to play consistent this whole tournament and to beat someone like her with the score line like this, I think I’ve sort of done what I’ve intended to do, so I’m really happy about that,” Osaka said.
Osaka’s only previous WTA final came at the 2016 Toray Pan Pacific in Tokyo, when she lost to Caroline Wozniacki.
Kasatkina was two points from defeat, trailing 4-5 and 0-30 in the third set when Williams committed four straight errors as the Russian tied it 5-5.
Williams won just two more points as Kasatkina took the last two games to close out the match in 2 hours, 48 minutes. Kasatkina dropped her racket near the baseline and covered her face with her hands as she walked to the net.
“In one moment you just catch yourself, like, you’re in night session, all crowd, you’re playing against a legend, and you are in the third set,” Kasatkina said. “You’re just staying on the return, and you’re like, ‘Come on, maybe it’s the moment of your life.’ “
Kasatkina has defeated four top-20 opponents at the same tournament for the first time in her career. She owns wins over all four current Grand Slam titleholders in the last year. A victory in Sunday’s final would move her into the top 10.
After shaking hands, Kasatkina pumped her fists and shook her head slightly as if in disbelief at beating the 37-year-old American and advancing to the biggest final of her young career.
As published by The Japan Times.