By Tucker Verdi
Remember that name. Not only was she the 2016 WTA Tour Newcomer of the Year. Not only did she just claim her first career title at Indian Wells this past weekend. She has now defeated Serena Williams.
She didn’t just beat Williams; she walloped her. The scoreline of 6-3, 6-2 reflects the hold Osaka had on the match, which took just 77 minutes to finish.
Granted, this isn’t Serena at the top of her game. Williams struggled with her mobility and her serve, aspects of her play she will continue to work on as she comes back from over a year away from the tour. But Osaka worked her left and right, top-level Serena or not.
Even when she couldn't win the point, Osaka's racket always seemed to find the ball. Her returns were sharp and often left Williams raising her hands in frustration. Her serve was even sharper, overpowering the former World No. 1 player at times.
“Sometimes when I am in a really hard position… I’m like ‘What would Serena do?’” Osaka confessed after the match.
“It worked out,” she quipped.
It wasn’t all bad news for former World No. 1’s. After a disappointing second round loss at Indian Wells, two-time Aussie Open champ Victoria Azarenka came out swinging and throttled CiCi Bellis in a 6-3, 6-0 victory that took just over an hour.
“I’m very happy with today’s performance,” Azarenka said on court following the win. “I haven’t played in such a long time so to be able to keep that intensity through the whole match without really dropping the level was really good.”
The 28-year-old Belarusian wasn’t completely impressed with her own performance, however.
“But I’m such a perfectionist that I want to do better and better and keep working not he things that weren’t so good today.”
Azarenka will take on No. 14 seed Madison Keys on Thursday while Osaka will face fourth-ranked Elina Svitolina on Friday.
Other notable results from Wednesday’s women’s action include 2016 Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig’s win over Sam Stosur and Bethanie Mattek-Sands’ loss to Alize Cornet in her first match back since a devastating knee injury at Wimbledon last year. Four additional Americans also secured their spots the second round: Vavara Lepchenko and qualifiers Allison Riske, Danielle Collins, and Sofia Kenin.