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Naomi Osaka storms past Daria Kasatkina to claim first career title

AP, Reuters

, California

Naomi Osaka routed Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 6-2 in a matchup of 20-year-old rising stars to win the BNP Paribas Open and earn the first title of her career on Sunday.

Osaka’s victory capped a run that included beating two-time winner Maria Sharapova, No. 5 Karolina Pliskova and top-ranked Simona Halep during the two-week tournament. She dropped one set in seven matches.

The Osaka native will rise to a career-high No. 22 in Monday’s WTA Tour rankings.

“In the beginning of the year, I just wanted to play every match really well,” she said. “Just focus one point at a time.

“I think I am doing that so I don’t really mind where my ranking is because I am sure at the end of the year if I keep playing well like this it will be pretty high.”

Juan Martin Del Potro was the men’s winner, staving off three match points in the third set to beat top-ranked Roger Federer 6-4, 7-6 (10-8), 7-6 (7-2).

“I cannot believe I won this tournament, beating Roger in a great final and level of tennis,” Del Potro said.

Del Potro and Osaka each earned $1.3 million.

While Del Potro had to hold off Federer, Osaka dominated her match.

“I was extremely stressed and extremely nervous, but my plan was to fake that I’m very calm,” Osaka told reporters.

“I just knew that she was going to fight for every point, too, so I couldn’t afford to lose points based on nerves, and I had to keep making the right decisions.”

Osaka will have little time to celebrate having drawn eight-time champion Serena Williams in the first round of next week’s Miami Open.

She needed just 70 minutes to dispatch No. 19 Kasatkina, who had an equally impressive showing in the desert.

Among those the Russian beat was U.S. Open winner Sloane Stephens, No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki, No. 10 Angelique Kerber and No. 8 Venus Williams. Kasatkina will rise eight spots to No. 11.

“I beat very good players, and in the right moments I was making the right decisions, so it means I’m growing as a player,” Kasatkina said. “This is the most important thing for me.”

The players traded service breaks to open the match. Osaka gained the only other break of the first set with a backhand winner on the sideline to go up 5-3. She gave up just one point on her serve in the next game to take the set, 6-3.

Both players were visited by their coaches during the changeover.

Osaka’s coach told her not to worry about what Kasatkina was doing.

The Russian’s coach told her: “I want to see Dasha. It’s your heart.”

He didn’t see much of what got Kasatkina to the final, however.

She was broken to open the second set and again in the fifth game, giving Osaka a 4-1 lead on her forehand winner down the line.

Osaka served a love game to go up 5-1. Kasatkina held at 5-2 but won just one point on Osaka’s final service game.

Osaka is the first unseeded winner since Kim Clijsters in 2005 and the second-youngest since Ana Ivanovic in 2008.

Until Indian Wells, Osaka had made it past the quarterfinals at a WTA event just once, when she was runner-up in Tokyo 18 months ago. Her inexperience at making victory speeches was evident.

“Hi, I’m Naomi,” she began, trying out her wry sense of humor on the crowd.

“OK, never mind,” she quickly blurted out.

After nervously hesitating in ticking off thank-yous, Osaka said, “This is probably going to be the worst acceptance speech of all time.”

She also singled out Kasatkina.

“I would like to thank Dasha for being super nice and also being a really cool person to play against,” Osaka said. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to play a lot of finals again.”

Osaka thanked her Haitian father and Japanese mother, who weren’t on hand. She moved to the U.S. as a 3-year-old and holds dual citizenship. She lives and trains in South Florida.

Osaka visibly flinched when streamers were shot off. She stepped gingerly toward the crystal trophy resting on a stand and Delicately placed her hands on each side of it. She shook her head in declining to pick up the heavy prize.

“I think that’s it,” she told the crowd.

Del Potro became the first Argentine champion in the 42-year history of the desert tournament. He handed Federer his first loss of the year, snapping the Swiss superstar’s career-best 17-match winning streak.

“I feel frustrated that I let an opportunity like this go by,” Federer said.

Del Potro held a match point at 8-7 in the second-set tiebreaker, but he lost the final three points on his own errors, allowing Federer to force a third set.

They were on serve in the third until Federer broke for a 5-4 lead.

Federer had a chance to serve out the match, holding two match points. But Del Potro staved off both to force deuce.

Federer’s forehand went long, giving Del Potro a break point. Federer answered with a backhand that hit Del Potro at the net and then gained his third match point on Del Potro’s forehand error.

Del Potro recovered to deuce with a forehand winner, and Federer mis-hit a forehand high into the air beyond the baseline, giving Del Potro another break point. The Argentine cashed in with a well-placed forehand in the corner to tie the set, 5-all.

In the tiebreaker, Del Potro raced to a 6-1 lead, helped by two of Federer’s double faults. He closed out the win on his third match point when Federer’s forehand failed.