This for me the pick of the first round matches in Indian Wells. Two former US Open champions who have been on the slide in as far as the rankings are concerned. Naomi hasn’t been on court that much lately and HAS SLIPPED TO NUMBER 78 whilst Sloane is better at 38. The most telling factor yesterday was the windy conditions which made serving a matter of concentration. Watch first game of the match 30-0 to Sloane. The players had to time the bounce from the ball as well the toss on serve like Naomi did on the Sloane return. Watch how the ball changed direction when it bounced. Despite this both players SERVED VERY WELL on first serve. Sloane up a break immediately looking good with 84% Naomi 70%. But Sloane couldn’t hold out in the rallies. In fact from winning the first game she lost the next three. Check out 2-1 Naomi 30-40. Sloane had to know that Osaka was expecting the slow kick serve. She didn’t change the serve and suffered for it. Watch how deep inside court Osaka was. The back and forth first set finally took a decisive turn in the seventh game at 3-3 when Sloane broke on deuce. One of Sloane’s assets on court is her great defensive work. Watch 5-3(40-150 as she broke to take the set. Now, the back spin she got on the forehand made it awkward for Osaka who couldn’t get enough top spin back on the ball.

Osaka is a fighter. This showed in the second set. She hit impressive groundstrokes under difficult conditions. Watch 1-0 Osaka 30-0 to Sloane. Stephens did well to adjust the body to get to the ball after another awkward bounce but unfortunately she couldn’t get to the forehand cross court hit low and hard. Sloane is a solid baseliner but would have loved to see her come to the net more. She had her moments in set two, one of them when she was hopelessly down 4-0 at first point. She opens up the racquet well and the follow through picture perfect. But the set was gone. She would win a single game as Osaka wrapped it up 6-1. Another thing stuck out for me from Stephens. She is a yard of pace down from the previous years and is affecting her. Once you get into a pattern on court its hard to stop. Sloane just like the first set went a break up hitting shots from the moon. Check out blockbuster backhand at 1-0 firs point third set. Now for the crucial moment of the match. Sloane about to go a double break up at 2-0 adv on deuce. Stephens roots herself again on the baseline and Osaka seizes her chance to snuff out the break point chance for the American. If Sloane had won the break I am certain she would have hoisted her arms in victory at the end. As it turned out it was the kick Osaka needed to kick on again. Naomi won the next 6 games to win the match in an extraordinary collapse by Stephens. Osaka showing the benefits of aggressive tennis playing. Check out 2-2 15-0 as illustration. Both players with amazing shots, Osaka on the attack Stephens sitting back, the difference was that on this occasion Naomi didn’t go for the winner early and Sloane was brave enough to go for it first. Great start to the mini major for the Japanese though.