Key Biscayne: It has never happened before: an opening-round match pitting a player who just won her first tennis title against a 23-time Grand Slam champion.
Naomi Osaka, a rising star who won Indian Wells on Sunday, will face Serena Williams in the first round of the Miami Open on Wednesday. It’s a freakishly difficult way for both players to start a tournament.
“The luck of the draw,” tournament director James Blake said Monday. “It’s great in one sense — we have an unbelievable blockbuster match for Wednesday. But one of them is going to be gone unfortunately by Thursday.”
The marquee matchup at the outset of the two-week tournament came about because neither player is seeded. Osaka is ranked a career-best No. 22, while Serena is ranked No. 491 after becoming a mother and returning to the tour at Indian Wells following a layoff of more than a year.
Osaka, a 20-year-old slugger from Japan, earned the biggest victory her career when she beat Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 6-2 in the Indian Wells final. Along with the title she won $1.3 million, nearly doubling her career earnings.
Serena lost in the third round at Indian Wells to her sister Venus. An eight-time Key Biscayne champion, Serena enters the tournament as a wild card and has never faced Osaka.
“We’ll see a lot of heavy hitting,” Blake said. “Both of them hit the ball so big. There are a lot of story lines. How is Naomi going to react to winning her first big title? There’s the cross-country flight. Is she going to be nervous playing Serena now that expectations are higher?”
Osaka lost just one set at Indian Wells and beat Maria Sharapova and top-ranked Simona Halep en route to the title.
“But anyone who is counting Serena out,” Blake said, “is doing so at their peril.”