It was the most anticipated opening clash at the BNP Paribas Open, and Naomi Osaka had a comeback victory worthy of the match's pedigree.
In her first match since the Australian Open, Osaka overcame both Sloane Stephens and blustery conditions, winning the last six games to seal a 1-hour, 53-minute comeback, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.
The win is her first victory against Stephens in three tries, and marks a winning return for the 2018 champion in Indian Wells. She didn't play last year's edition when it was rescheduled to after the US Open and lost in the fourth round in 2019.
"Honestly, I didn't know what the score was," Osaka said afterward. "I had to ask [coach] Wim [Fisette] afterwards. I was just really concentrating on trying my best on every point.
"As tight as I was in the first two games of the final set, I just figured that I learned from every match that I play and I learned a lot from my three-set match against [Amanda] Anisimova in Australia. I told myself that I would have opportunities for sure and I just need to capitalize on that. I knew I was hitting a lot of double faults in the first game of the third set, so I was just trying to fix that first of all."
"To play against Sloane, she just won a tournament and I'm sure she's feeling really confident with herself, that was a really good test for me. But at the same time I do need to play a lot more matches and I do need to give myself the opportunity to get more into the swing of things.
"I feel like I played well in Australia, but I keep taking these long breaks and I'm aware that I'm taking them, but hopefully, I'll get more into the flow of things with this U.S. hard-court swing."
Returning to #IndianWells with a win 💪— wta (@WTA) March 11, 2022
🇯🇵 @naomiosaka gets a victory over Stephens to move into the second round! pic.twitter.com/lS9FBgyhiI
The two hadn't played since the 2018 WTA Finals in Shenzhen, and Osaka lost the pair's first meeting in Acapulco, Mexico, back in 2016. Far off their career-high rankings of World No.1 and World No.3, respectively, Osaka (now No.78) and Stephens (now No.38) battled through swirling winds inside Stadium 1, as sustained gusts in the desert wrecked havoc on their service tosses and ball bounces on the court.
"It was a bit frustrating but it was also funny at the same time because there was debris flying around the court," Osaka said. "I've also never played a match that was that windy, so it was also a new experience.
"I was just grateful that there were fans watching the match. Apparently, it was very cold so the fact that they stuck around really meant a lot to me."
In a match that saw runs of games for both players, Osaka led 3-1, 30-0 in the first set before Stephens won five straight games. Osaka rebounded by winning the first four games of the second set, where she held from 15-40 at 1-0 and 0-40 at 4-1, and later saved three break points serving at 0-2 in the decider to kick off the comeback.
Read more: 'I am at peace with myself': Naomi Osaka on her return to Indian Wells
A former champion in the California desert, Osaka advances to a second-round meeting with No. 21 seed Veronika Kudermetova.
Ukrainian Kostyuk, Ukraine-born Belgian Zanevska share emotional moment
While Ukraine wasn't listed next to both of their names on the scoreboard, compatriots Marta Kostyuk and Maryna Zanevska had the most emotional moment of Day 2.
Current events are affecting both players. Zanevska, born in Odesa but playing under the Belgian flag since 2016, still has family living in Ukraine, as she revealed in an Instagram post last week. And as Kostyuk told press after the match, the war at home was at the top of both players' minds as they took the court.
The 28-year-old Zanevska, who won her first WTA singles title in Gdynia, Poland, last July, was a point away from her first main-draw win at a WTA 1000-level event in her first appearance in Indian Wells in eight years. But Kostyuk, the higher-ranked of the two players, rallied for victory.
The World No.54 saved two match points in the second-set tiebreak and came from 5-3 down in the third set to seal a 6-7(5), 7-6(6), 7-5 comeback.
"Honestly, in the current mental state that I'm in, it was very tough to go on court," Kostyuk said. "I didn't know what to expect from myself, I didn't know what to expect from my body. When I woke up this morning I thought, 'I'm not going to do it, I can't win it.'
"I just tried to find a way. She was playing amazing tennis. My main goal was to fight and I fought. It was a tough comeback. ... Everyone is fighting how they fight. My job is playing tennis and this is the biggest way I can help in the current situation."
Highlights: Kostyuk def. Zanevska
After 3 hours and 9 minutes, one of the longest matches of the season, tears flowed from both players, and they shared a long embrace.
Kostyuk advances to face No.20 seed Elise Mertens. The two have never played.
With a wonderful embrace at the end of it 🫂— wta (@WTA) March 11, 2022
🇺🇦 @marta_kostyuk comes from 3-5 down in the decider against Ukraine-born Zanevska to reach Round 2.#IndianWells pic.twitter.com/WQT4OZSkzd
Other Thursday highlights: Van Uytvanck def. Galfi | Putintseva def. Krueger
Sasnovich advances past injured Osorio
Aliaksandra Sasnovich moved into the second round after her opponent Camila Osorio retired from their match while trailing 6-4, 5-0. Colombian 20-year-old Osorio, at a career-high ranking of No.35 after reaching the Monterrey final last week, was suffering from a left thigh injury.
Sasnovich beat Osorio in the same round of Indian Wells last year. From there, Sasnovich went on a tear at the 2021 BNP Paribas Open, defeating Grand Slam champions Emma Raducanu and Simona Halep back-to-back before falling to eventual finalist Victoria Azarenka.
World No.59 Sasnovich, who reached her third career singles final earlier this year at Melbourne Summer Set 2, will next face two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the second round. Sasnovich and Kvitova have split their two previous meetings.
American fortunes: Anisimova dominates, Rogers mounts comeback
Amanda Anisimova needed only 53 minutes to ease past American wildcard Emma Navarro, winning 6-2, 6-2. The victory sets up an enticing second-round match against Leylah Fernandez, a duel that will feature the two youngest title-winners of the 2022 season so far.
While Anisimova sailed, Shelby Rogers mounted a confident comeback to defeat Nuria Parrizas Diaz, 6-1, 5-7, 7-6(3) in 2 hours and 53 minutes. Rogers trailed 5-1 in the final set before winning five consecutive games and then dominating the decisive tiebreak. The 29-year-old American will face No.10 seed Jelena Ostapenko. The Latvian is 3-0 against Rogers.