By Mike McIntyre
Photos Jimmie48 Tennis Photography
Twenty year old Japanese phenom Naomi Osaka continued her impressive form of late as she defeated her idol Serena Williams 6-3, 6-2 on Wednesday at the Miami Open. In a blockbuster first round encounter, the two were pitted against one another for a match that every tennis fan had circled on their calendar when the draw was announced a few days ago.
Due to Serena's nearly fourteen month layoff from the WTA Tour, it was the much younger Osaka who was actually favored to advance due to her incredible play over the past week. At the BNP Paribas Open just prior to this event, Osaka ran-over three players who had been Grand Slam finalists in Aga Radwanska, Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep along with multiple Slam winner Maria Sharapova. Three of those players had been World No. 1 at some point in their careers including Halep who holds the position again at the moment. In the finals of Indian Wells, Osaka soundly defeated fellow-youngster Daria Kasatkina by a score of 6-3, 6-2 - the same count as her match in Miami against Serena today.
For her part, Serena is still obviously trying to find a consistent form that she understandably is lacking after her second tournament back on tour. It is rare that she is out-aced, but today it was her opponent who led 7-3 in that category. A 53% first serve percentage is below where Serena is needing to find her big weapon as well. The groundstrokes were being all too often sprayed wide or long and this is something that the American will have to reduce over time as she attempts to get back to her dominating ways.
After the match Osaka giggled in her own awkwardly innocent way about how much the match against her self-professed idol had meant. "I don't know if anybody knows this," she revealed to the crowd, "but Serena's my favorite player." She continued to divulge with a slight amount of humor (that may or may not have been intended), "I kinda wanted to impress her. I just wanted to make her say 'Come On' one time and I think she did, so I'm really happy about that."
With a winning streak that now stands at eight consecutive matches, Osaka must be considered at least an even threat to take her next match in Miami against fourth seeded Elina Svitolina. The pair have split their career head-to-head encounters 2-2, with Svitolina winning most recently in Dubai by a score of 6-2, 6-4. Despite that tournament being but a month ago, it is safe to say that the Osaka that the Ukrainian will face Friday will present a tougher challenge this time around.