Naomi Osaka Heads Five-Way Battle For No.1 In Indian Wells - UBITENNIS
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Naomi Osaka Heads Five-Way Battle For No.1 In Indian Wells

Can the 21-year-old Japanese player hold on to top spot over the next two weeks?

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Naomi Osaka (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

Despite being a two-time grand slam champion at the age of 21, Naomi Osaka finds herself in unfamiliar territory at this year’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

The world No.1 will be playing in her first WTA tournament as a defending champion. 12 months ago ranked 44th in the world, Osaka scored consecutive wins over Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep and Daria Kasatkina in Indian Wells to claim her first silverware on the professional tour. Since then, she has grown from strength to strength to become Asia’s first ever world No.1 in tennis.

“Recently a lot of parents have been coming up to me and telling me that their kids look up to me, those words blew me away.” Osaka wrote on Twitter yesterday.
“I was honestly shocked and felt this huge responsibility because I remember how important role models are.
“I’m here at Indian Wells, I see all these kids that look so happy to see me they ask for picture and autographs….Honestly I wanted to cry because my heart feels so full in these moments and I realize it isn’t just about tennis, it’s about inspiring the next generation.” She added.

Whilst relishing the impact she is having on others, the Japanese player faces a tough battle to maintain her top position over the next two weeks. With 1000 points to defend, Osaka is one of five players that could end the Californian tournament as world No.1. In her section of the draw, she faces a potential second round clash with Kristina Mladenovic, who plays China’s Zheng Saisai in her opening match. A player she recently lost to in straight sets at the Dubai Tennis Championships. Also lurking in her section during the first week is Australian Open semi-finalist Danielle Collins and Caroline Wozniacki.

Osaka’s potential path to the title
R1: Bye
R2: Mladenovic
R3: Collins
R16: Wozniacki/Bencic
QF: Pliskova
SF: Kvitova/Kerber
Final: Serena/Halep

The Chasers

Petra Kvitova was a win away from becoming No.1 for the first time in her career at the Australian Open. Losing to Osaka in the final. In order to claim the top position this time round, the Czech needs to reach at least the semi-finals. A tough ask for a player who has only reached the quarter-finals of the event in two out of eight attempts.

“I’m already happy with my season so far. This is the second month of the year, and yeah, I’m pretty happy with that.” Kvitova said following her exit from the Dubai Tennis Championships.

Kvitova faces a potentially dangerous journey in this year’s draw. Her opening match will be against either the formidable Venus Williams or Andrea Petkovic. The only consolation is that she will not play a player ranked no higher than 15th seed Julia Goerges until at least the quarter-finals, if she progresses that far.

Former champion Halep has won more matches at Indian Wells (21) than any other Premier Mandatory tournament so far in her career. She will be hoping for another deep run in 2019. Last winning a title in Montreal back in August, the Romanian is required to reach the final this year if she wants to reclaim the No.1 spot. Something she hasn’t done since winning the title back in 2015.

Questions remain over how Halep will fair over the fortnight. Whilst she has no injury concerns (that are public knowledge), she admitted that her Achilles impacted her serving and she experienced cramping in her leg during her quarter-final loss to Belinda Bencic in Dubai.

The last time a American woman other than Serena Williams topped the rankings was Lindsay Davenport back in 2006. Sloane Stephens has a shot at becoming the ninth player from her country to top the rankings, but is required to reach the final at least.

Her win-loss record at Indian Wells currently stands at 10-8 and she last reached the quarter-finals back in 2014. Although Stephens is known for finding her form whilst playing at the big events. Winning the Miami Open last year and reaching the final of the French Open. However, Stephens have struggled on the tour so far this year. Winning back-to-back matches in one out of four tournaments played.

“I’m not too sad about it. I’m just going to go back and work some more, practice some more and get ready for Indian Wells.” Stephens commented about her latest loss in Acapulco.

Finally, Pliskova has the hardest task of dethroning Osaka from the top spot. Not only does she need results to go in her favour, Pliskova must win the title. Something that has never been achieved by a Czech player in the history of the tournament. The 26-year-old is already a two-time Indian Wells semi-finalist and has a 75% (15-5) winning rate in the tournament heading into this year. Her best record in a premier Mandatory event.

The women’s draw at the BNP Paribas Open will get underway on Wednesday. All of the 32 seeded players have a bye in the first round.

The No.1 scenarios

R128 R64 R32 R16 1/4 1/2 Fin Winner
Player Points 10 35 65 120 215 390 650 1000
1- Osaka 5871 5881 5906 5936 5991 6086 6261 6521 6871
2- Kvitova 5540 5550 5575 5605 5660 5755 5930 6190 6540
3- Halep 5337 5347 5372 5402 5457 5552 5727 5987 6337
4- Stephens 5212 5222 5247 5277 5332 5427 5602 5862 6212
5- Pliskova 4930 4940 4965 4995 5050 5145 5320 5580 5930

Note: data obtained via tennistonic.com

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Victoria Azarenka edges Dominika Cibulkova to reach the second round in Miami

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Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka battled past Dominika Cibulkova 6-2 3-6 6-4 after 2 hours and 31 minutes in their first match since 2015 at the Hard Rock Stadium to reach the second round at the Miami Open.

Victoria Azarenka, who won the Miami three times in 2009, 2011 and 2016 and reached the semifinal last year in the previous venue of Crandon Park at Key Biscayne, had achieved two of her previous seven wins at this tournament in the third round in 2011 and in the fourth round in 2012.

Azarenka got an immediate break in the first game of the opening set and went up a double break with a forehand return winner to cruise through to a 5-2 lead. Cibulkova started the second set with a hold of serve before breaking serve at 15 with a lob drive volley to open up a 2-0 lead. Azarenka broke straight back in the third game on the fifth game for 1-2 when Cibulkova made a double fault. Cibulkova got another break in the eighth game with a forehand down the line before serving out the second set to 30.

Cibulkova earned two break points in the third game of the decisive set, but Azarenka held her serve with her seventh ace. Azarenka held her serve with a backhand winner to draw level to 2-2 in the fourth game. Cibulkova broke serve for the first time in the decider with a backhand return to take a 3-2 lead, but Azarenka broke straight back in the sixth game, when Cibulkova missed a backhand. In the eighth game Cibulkova went up 40-15 but she made a double fault. Azarenka came back to break serve with a backhand return. As Azarenka was serving for the match at 30-0, Cibulkova hit a forehand winner and a dropshot to break back on her third break point chance. Cibulkova made two double faults, while she was serving at 4-5. Azarenka earned her first match point with a forehand return winner and converted it with a smash setting up a second round match against Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia.

“It was a little bit of a roller coaster. Dominika is such a dangerous opponent. She has been on the tour for a while and we have played from juniors together. It was an entertaining first match. I think that’s you want to start the tournament. It was such an honour to play here as the first match and I am so excited for the tournament. I thank the organizers for their great work. They have made a good effort to improve the facility”,said Azarenka.

 

 

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Angelique Kerber and Bianca Andreescu could meet again in Miami

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Last year’s Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber could meet 18-year-old Indian Canadian rising star Bianca Andreescu in the third round at the Miami Open at the Hard Rock Stadium in a possible re-match of last Sunday’s Indian Wells final. Andreescu beat Kerber 6-4 3-6 6-4 in the Californian desert.

Kerber and Andreescu have been drawn in the top quarter of the draw and one of these players could meet Naomi Osaka in a blockbuster quarter final.

Andreescu claimed her maiden title in the Californian desert beating her German rival in three sets. Kerber praised Andreescu for her aggressive tennis in the Indian Wells final.

“After the first set I did my best to come back and but Bianca played good, especially in the third set. When she had her chances, she just went for it, putting the balls into the court. She deserved to win in the end, playing the whole tournament well. I know that I had to play my best tennis, although I was not able to take my chances, something she did. Her level was high already in Auckland, starting the year with the final and carrying that form here”, said Kerber.

At Indian Wells Kerber beat Yulia Putintseva, Natalya Vikhlyantseva, Aryna Sabalenka, Venus Williams and Belinda Bencic to advance to the 29th final of her career. Despite the defeat Kerber has remained positive about her successful week at Indian Wells and is confident ahead of her next tournament in Miami.

“For me the positive thing is that I played in the final, something I did not expect two weeks ago. That’s why I am happy about this tournament and that gives me a lot of confidence. In a few days we have another tournament and we all start again from zero. I was trying not to look too much on her side but she played well. Miami is the new chapter for all of us. There are different conditions and rivals and we willin the new venue. I am looking forward to going there”, said Kerber.

 

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Sloane Stephens out to defend her title at the Miami Open

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Reigning US Open and Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, 2018 Roland Garros champion Simona Halep, fresh Indian Wells winner Bianca Andreescu, 23-time Grand Slam champion, Serena Williams and 2018 Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber are in the spotlight at the Miami Open Main Draw.  

Naomi Osaka leads the top half of the draw, which also features three Grand Slam champions; Angelique Kerber, Garbine Muguruza and Caroline Wozniacki. Osaka won the first title of her career at Indian Wells in 2018 and beat Serena Williams in her opening match of last year’s edition of the Miami Open before losing to Elina Svitolina.

In this year’s edition of the Miami Open Osaka will open her campaign against a qualifier and could take on Hsieh-Su-Wei in the third round in a possible re-match of this year’s Australian Open third round match. In Melbourne the Japanese player came back from a set down to beat Hsieh-Su-Wei 5-7 6-4 6-1. Last week Osaka lost to Belinda Bencic in straight sets in Indian Wells.

Osaka could face either Caroline Wozniacki or Garbine Muguruza in the fourth round and is on collision course for a possible quarter final clash against either Angelique Kerber or Aryna Sabalenka.

Defending champion Sloane Stephens lead the bottom half of the draw. The 2017 US Open champion has had a season of ups and downs with a record of 5 wins and 5 losses and lost in her opening round of Indian Wells against Stefanie Voegele, but the US player should not be underestimated. Last year she entered the Miami tournament with a negative 3-4 win-loss record and won her maiden Miami title. She continued her successful 2018 season with three finals at Roland Garros, Montreal and at the WTA Finals in Singapore. Stephens will start her defence against either Budapest champion Alyson Van Uytvanck or Ons Jabeur and could meet Italy’s Camila Giorgi in the third round and is on collision course for a possible quarter final against either Karolina Pliskova or Jelena Ostapenko (in a possible re-match of last year’s final). Pliskova could meet 2019 Dubai champion and Indian Wells semifinalist Belinda Bencic in the third round in a potential re-match of this year’s Indian Wells match.

Simona Halep leads the bottom half of the draw. The Romanian player will open her Miami campaign against Johanna Larsson an dcould meet either Daria Kasatkina in the third round or Lesla Tsurenko before a potential quarter final against either Serena Williams or last year’s WTA Finals champion Elina Svitolina.

This year’s Australian Open finalist Petra Kvitova has been drawn in the top half of the draw and will play against either Maria Sakkari or last year’s Moscow champion Olga Danilovic in her opening match before a possible third-round clash against Donna Vekic.

Fresh Indian Wells champion Bianca Andreescu will make her Miami Open debut against Romania’s Irina Camelia Begu. The winner of this match could clash against 20-year-old US player Sofia Kenin, who beat Andreescu in the recent Acapulco semifinal. Andreescu could face Kerber in the third round in a potential re-match of last Sunday’s Indian Wells final.

In one of the most interesting first round matches former Miami champion Victoria Azarenka will face 2016 WTA Finals champion Dominica Cibulkova, who reached the semifinal in Miami in 2014.

Mari Osaka, the elder sister of Naomi Osaka, was awarded a wild card for the 2019 Miami Open and will make her first appearance in a main draw and will play against Whitney Osuigwe.

There is no clear favourites in Miami after a very unpredictable start to the season in the first three months with 13 different champions in the first 13 WTA tournaments of the year. Three players aged 21 or younger Naomi Osaka, Belinda Bencic and Bianca Andreescu won the biggest titles this season lifting the trophies respectively at the Australian Open, Dubai and Indian Wells.

The Miami Open will be held for the first time in the Hard Rock Stadium, the home of the American Football team Miami Dolphins.

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