Osaka wins grudge match
Top-ranked women's player turns the tables on Mladenovic, overcoming nerves in her first title defence
World No. 1 Naomi Osaka launched her Indian Wells WTA title defence with a 6-3, 6-4 victory in a grudge match against Kristina Mladenovic yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Osaka, whose second straight Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January propelled her to the top of the rankings, was beaten by 65th-ranked Mladenovic in Dubai last month in her first match since she lifted the trophy in Melbourne.
Keen to avoid a repeat, Osaka marched through the opening set in 38 minutes, but she hit a speed bump as she was broken when serving for the match at 5-2 in the second.
After Mladenovic held serve to narrow the deficit to 5-4, the Japanese player faced another break-point before wrapping up the match after one hour and 21 minutes.
"The last time I played her, I lost, so anything's a bonus," Osaka said, adding that she felt a few butterflies in her stomach before opening the first title defence of her career.
Her surprise triumph at Indian Wells last year launched a 2018 campaign that would eventually include her first Grand Slam crown at the US Open.
"I've never been a defending champion before, that's new and I was really nervous," said Osaka, who booked a third-round meeting with American Danielle Collins, a 6-4, 6-1 winner over Kirsten Flipkens.
Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams pulled off the upset of the day, rallying from a set and two breaks down to topple third-seeded Petra Kvitova 4-6, 7-5, 6-4.
"I just fought and tried my hardest," said Williams, ranked 36th in the world.
"A double break is not ideal against a great server, especially a left-handed server," Williams said, adding that the secret to coming back was "just being in the moment".
"I think I created some opportunities. I had some good points. I think she had a few tight points, and here we are."
She booked a third-round clash with fellow American Christina McHale, who defeated 30th-seeded Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
There was disappointment for 2011 winner Caroline Wozniacki, who fell 7-5, 2-6, 7-5 to 59th-ranked Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova.
Elsewhere, eighth-seeded German Angelique Kerber eased into the third round with a 6-0, 6-2 victory over Kazakhstan's Yulia Putintseva.
At the ATP Indian Wells Masters, Canadian teenager Felix Auger-Aliassime won a battle of young guns by beating ninth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-2 to move to the third round.
The 18-year-old, the youngest player in the world top 100, fired an unreturnable serve on match-point to take down the 20-year-old Greek - the youngest player in the top 10.
While the outcome was an upset on paper, Auger-Aliassime held a 3-0 advantage over Tsitsipas when they met as juniors.
"I didn't know what to expect today because he's a completely different player (now)," said Auger-Aliassime after their morning match.
"I believe in myself. I thought I had my chances. I served really well today, so that was obviously a big key."
Meanwhile, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic picked up steam during his second-round match against American Bjorn Fratangelo under the lights on the stadium court as he goes in search of his 74th ATP title.
Djokovic sprinted over to the stands to shake hands with his idol, 14-time Grand Slam champion Pete Sampras, immediately after the 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 win, which set up a third-round clash with Philipp Kohlschreiber.
"I was a bit nervous, I don't get to see Pete that often," the Serb said.
"It's a thrill to see someone that I looked up to when I was a kid." - AFP, REUTERS