World No.1 Naomi Osaka‘s 6-4 6-2 third-round victory over American Danielle Collins opened the Monday night session on Stadium 1 at the BNP Paribas Open.
In terms of persona, this match could have been promoted as “Fire & Ice”. What I mean by that is that Osaka continues to display a low-key image, while Collins makes bold statements, declaring that she fears no one. Other contrasting factors are age, education (Collins attended UVA) and tour experience, where the younger, Osaka, has the upper hand.
The first set was highly competitive, with the players exchanging holds and breaks to 4-4. In the fifth game, the 25th-ranked Collins defended a 14-point challenge to hold. In the ninth game, Collins gave Osaka an opening with two doubles faults and at least “partial credit” is due to the Japenese who executed returns with interest. Osaka placed pressure right where she wanted it, in Collins’ mind.
The top-seeded Osaka got the break and followed up, dropping only one point to hold for the set, 6-4. The defending champion did overcook some shots during this set, but she made adjustments as the second set progressed. Overall, Osaka’s service holds were clean and she made 66% of first serves compared to 47% for Collins. So she was efficient and could conserve energy. When given a second serve opportunity, Osaka pounced, winning 58% of those returns.
The second set took only 25 minutes. The 25-year-old Collins started strong, with a quick hold. But then Osaka “quietly” charged, winning the next five games to a 5-1 lead. Despite this, Collins stayed in the match and fought for another eight-point hold to 5-2. But the existing collateral damage was too much. Osaka shot an ace and dropped only one point holding for the set. She continues her first ever journey to defend her title and a slew of ranking points.
Pre-match, the 25th-seeded Collins spoke more openly of confidence and aggression, while “quiet” Osaka went out and executed it.
After the victory, Osaka spoke these words to the supportive crowd: “There is nothing else I’d rather do and I am privileged to be here…” This young woman has certainly come a long way from the one who uttered: “This is the worst acceptance speech ever” at the 2018 BNP Paribas Open trophy ceremony. I believe all of these things are signs that her mind continues to progressively evolve and so does her game.
In press, Osaka was asked about going for too much tonight and she replied: “Yeah, I see what you’re saying. I do think that on the second serve sometimes I tried to go a little bit too aggressive, and it was, like, a really bad error. But I think that was part of the learning process. From there, I was able to see how much I can reel it in or not.” We have a player learning while on court mid-match and executing adjustments. Yes, this is part of the reason she is No.1.
In the fourth round, Osaka will face Switzerland’s world No.23 Belinda Bencic, who loves big stages and has found success against top players such as Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber early in her career.
Bencic is back from another injury break and she always seems to storm back. If her body had not broken down a few times, her ranking would probably be closer to or inside the Top 10. On her way to the round of 16, Belinda has two straight-set wins over unseeded opponents. Sometimes that is a blessing and sometimes it is necessary to grind the gears early to hit top speeds in later rounds.
Osaka and Bencic have collided only once in regular season play in 2013 and then once at the Hopman Cup. Considering both those matches, they are 1-1 head-to-head.
Event Tip: Even if you can only get a Ground Pass Tuesday, a visit is well worth it ,as Stadium 4 will host Elina Svitolina vs. Ashleigh Barty and Anett Kontaveit vs. Karolina Pliskova. Always check the BNP Paribas Open website or App, as matches sometimes move to other courts. Novak Djokovic’s match will need to fit into Tuesday’s Order Of Play, to complete due to rain. Yes, it rains in the desert occasionally,