The time is now for Naomi Osaka and Daria Kasatkina in BNP Paribas women’s final
Like Daria Kasatkina before her, Naomi Osaka showed no respect to her elder opponent on a chilly Friday night at the BNP Paribas Open. In the end, youth beat out experience to create a final on Sunday between two 20-year-olds who have delighted crowds at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden by coming up with some sensational performances.
After Kasatkina outlasted 37-year-old Venus Williams in three sets in the first semifinal of the evening, Osaka crushed 26-year-old Simona Halep, the No. 1 player in the world, 6-3, 6-0 at Stadium 1.
Osaka, the daughter of a Japanese mother and Haitian father, made shockingly quick work of Halep to extend a run here that included victories over Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Sachia Vickery, Maria Sakkari and No. 5-seeded Karolina Pliskova.
“It wasn’t easy,” Osaka said in an on-court interview after she clinched the win on her third match point. “I was really stressed out. But I was really happy I ended it fast.”
Her strategy, she said, was simple. “I just tried to make her a little bit irritated,” said Osaka, the first unseeded player to reach the finals here since Kim Clijsters in 2005.
Halep’s prevailing emotion seemed to be anger, which she directed toward herself.
“I couldn’t concentrate. I missed a lot, and I didn’t play what I had to play,” she said. “I just lost today. She was better. She was more prepared. She was ready to play and ready to win the match, and I was not.”
The winner on Sunday will earn $1,340,860, a sum that would essentially double Osaka’s previous career earnings of $1,483,053. The runner-up will get $654,860.
That two 20-year-olds are in line for such a lucrative payday and the title of such a prestigious event is significant. So, too, is that their success appears to signal a generational shift toward younger players. To Kasatkina it means “that we are coming. Very soon.”
“I feel like maybe I came out a little bit slower than she has because she’s obviously seeded in this tournament and stuff,” Osaka said, referring to her Russian opponent being the No. 20 seed. “But I feel like there’s a new generation, and we’re trying to push through.”
Halep, who was hampered by a foot injury earlier this season and missed getting enough practice time to feel totally comfortable here, said she wasn’t surprised that Kasatkina and Osaka will play for the title.
“Osaka is a strong player, and she’s playing really well. I played in Melbourne against her, so I knew that she can make a good match,” Halep said, referring to a victory she earned over Osaka in the round of 16 at this year’s Australian Open. “Also, Kasatkina is playing well here, helps everything for her, because she’s rolling the ball very well. She’s playing with topspin. So both of them deserve to be in the final.”
Osaka did find one downside to making it to the final.
“It feels a little bit lonely,” she said because players who have lost in earlier rounds generally move on to the next tournament instead of sticking around. “But other than that, it’s cool. Because then, like, all the sushi [in the players’ dining room], there’s still a lot of sushi left and stuff.”
Osaka and Kasatkina have never played each other before, but they have met and shared some laughs. They did a comical video together in which Kasatkina taught Osaka how to hit a “tweener,” a between-the-legs shot, though Kasatkina wasn’t sure she had much success.
“She’s bad,” Kasatkina said, smiling. “Yeah, I don’t know. She cannot get it. But she can hit the ball. … If she will keep trying, I think she can do it better because at the end of the lesson, she was already putting the ball in. Technically, it was so-so, but the ball was going in, at least.”
Osaka said she won’t try a tweener in the final. “I can’t even do it for laughs because I’d want to win the point too much,” she said.
“I feel like it’s going to be really interesting because she kind of plays a completely different game than me, and I think we’re both in the final of this type of tournament for the first time. So it’s going to be fun, I think.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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