Naomi Osaka, who was born in Japan but grew up in Florida, dismissed five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova with a 6-4, 6-4 first-round victory on the opening day of play Wednesday in the BNP Paribas Open. Sharapova, a two-time champion here, was ranked No. 41 in the world. Osaka was ranked 44th.
"She's done really well in the past year. She's a rising star and she's playing really good," Sharapova said, praising Osaka's aggressiveness and big serve.
Osaka, whose father is Haitian and mother is Japanese, made an impression by converting five of six break points against Sharapova and withstanding comeback attempts by her more experienced opponent. "I knew she would fight for everything because I've watched her since I was little," said Osaka, who will face Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round. "I was just really honored to play her."
Osaka broke Sharapova's serve in the second game of the first set and had a break point up 4-1 in the sixth game, but Sharapova fought back to win three straight games. Osaka, a decade younger than Sharapova at 20, kept her poise and won the set when Sharapova hit a forehand into the net. They exchanged breaks in the second set before a couple of unforced errors by Sharapova helped Osaka close out the match.
Osaka said she remained calm in the face of Sharapova's comeback attempts because she had long ago watched and admired Sharapova's calmness in the same situations. The victory, Osaka said, "was one of my best, just based on her being her," and she was especially proud of not folding after Sharapova pulled even at 4-4 in the first set.
"I feel like I tried a lot to sort of change the way I think. I feel like before, maybe if she came back from that, I feel like I probably would have gotten really upset," Osaka said. "I was just thinking that I would be really disrespectful to start getting angry. I'm playing against Sharapova, and who do I think I am to start getting angry? And everyone knows that she plays for every point, and if I play for every point too, it would be an equal match and it would sort of come down to physical [ability] and stuff."
Amanda Anisimova, 16, of New Jersey, the junior U.S. Open champion and a wild card entry here, won her first WTA main draw match, a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Pauline Parmentier of France. She's the youngest player in the singles draw. Venus Williams, 37, is the oldest…. Qualifier Sachia Vickery of Hollywood, Fla., beat wild card Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 6-3, 6-4….Qualifier Sofia Kenin beat 17-year-old wild card Claire Liu of Thousand Oaks 6-2, 6-0…. As an incentive to lure premier singles players into playing doubles, organizers offered a $1-million bonus to any player who wins both the singles and doubles titles here this year. "Did the doubles draw close?" Venus Williams said. "I might not be in it this year, but next year…. I love playing doubles."