Naomi Osaka wipes out Sloane Stephens on a windy day in Indian Wells

Naomi Osaka battled windy conditions and a fit Sloane Stephens to secure a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 first-round win at Indian Wells on Thursday.

In a showdown by former US Open champions, Osaka struggled in the first set amidst powerful volleys in their first game since January.

After a lackluster first set, Osaka flipped a switch in the second, running a 4-0 lead as their serve and defense suddenly improved.

Osaka pounced on a short ball from Stephens and his swinging backhand volley hit the line to equalize the game at one set apiece.

Stephens, who won a title in Guadalajara last month, held a 2-0 lead and had a 3-0 break point chance in the third but failed to convert.

This would prove crucial as Osaka gained momentum to clinch their last six games, sealing their first career win over the American when her forehand failed to clear the net at match point.

“I haven’t played in the wind in a while, so this was new to me,” Osaka said in an on-pitch interview at Stadium Court.

“I felt like I was fighting for my life. I was playing against her, I was playing against this wind. It was crazy.

“But I kept thinking he was going through the same circumstances as me, so I just have to commit to trying as hard as possible.”

A four-time Grand Slam champion, the former Japanese world number one saw her ranking drop to 78 as she arrived at the tournament after taking a break from tennis after last year’s US Open to prioritize her mental health.

Before starting the tournament she won in 2018, she said she has a new perspective on tennis and is “at peace with myself”.

The next challenge for Osaka is the second round match against Veronika Kudermetova.

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