The Malta Independent 19 December 2018, Wednesday

Updated - Indian Wells Masters: Sharapova upset in first round, Serena Williams wins in comeback

Friday, 9 March 2018, 09:57 Last update: about 11 months ago

Maria Sharapova's return to the BNP Paribas Open for the first time in three years ended in a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Naomi Osaka of Japan on Wednesday night.

Sharapova's ranking of No. 41 in the world forced her to play a first-round match in the tournament she has won twice. A failed doping test led to a 15-month ban for the five-time major winner.

She trailed 4-1 in the first set before holding serve at 4-all. But Osaka held to go up 5-4 and broke Sharapova on a double fault to close out the set.

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Ranked 44th in the world, Osaka took a 4-2 lead in the second set. Sharapova broke to tie it 4-all before Osaka won the final two games to end the 1 1/2-hour match.

Sam Stosur overcame a slow start to beat American Lauren Davis 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Two American teenagers advanced to the second round.

Amanda Anisimova defeated 94th-ranked Pauline Parmentier 6-2, 6-2 for her first WTA Tour victory. The 16-year-old Anisimova, who earned a wild card into the main draw, is the U.S. Open junior champion.

Caroline Dolehide, a 19-year-old wild card, fired 11 aces in outlasting 78th-ranked Shelby Rogers, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3 in 2 1/2 hours.

In other matches on the first day of the two-week tournament, Belinda Bencic saved a match point in beating Timea Babos, 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4), while wild card Genie Bouchard lost to qualifier Sachia Vickery, 6-3, 6-4.

 

Serena Williams reacts while playing Zarina Diyas during the first round of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., Thursday, March 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Crystal Chatham)

 

Walking on court for the first match of her latest comeback, Serena Williams allowed herself a rare smile. This time, tennis is different for the 23-time major winner.

What didn't change is Williams winning.

She beat Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan 7-5, 6-3 in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday night after a 14-month layoff for the birth of her first daughter.

Serena Williams' husband, Alexis Ohanian, reacts to a fan comment while Williams plays Zarina Diyas during the first round of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., Thursday, March 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Crystal Chatham)

 

"I almost cried before the match," Williams said. "I texted Alexis, I was like, is it normal that I want to cry? I really missed her, but playing at night really helped because I know she goes to bed and she goes to sleep. I can't like play with her right now."

With new husband and Reddit co-found Alexis Ohanian looking on, Williams played from behind until breaking Diyas in the 11th game of the first set. Diyas netted a forehand and Williams yelled, "Come on!" as the crowd cheered.

"Right now, for this particular tournament, I'm really just trying to take it easy and not put so much pressure or stress or expectation on myself," she said. "I feel like it's one of the few times I've been able to do that."

Serena Williams prepares to hit a forehand to Zarina Diyas during the first round of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., Thursday, March 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Crystal Chatham)

 

Williams has been away since winning the 2017 Australian Open early in her pregnancy. She gave birth to Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. six months ago.

Williams is playing at Indian Wells under a protected ranking of 22nd. She hasn't been unseeded at a tournament since 2011 in Cincinnati.

"I'm playing with nothing to lose, I only can gain," she said. "For me, it's a real joy to be out here."

Serena Williams clenches her fist while playing Zarina Diyas during the first round of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., Thursday, March 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Crystal Chatham)

 

The half-full stadium warmly greeted Williams, with many fans giving her a standing ovation as she entered.

Williams served a love game capped by a 100-mph ace in her first service game. She had break points in the first and fifth games but couldn't convert. She started hitting harder and her familiar grunting returned when she tied the set 5-all.

Diyas and Williams traded service breaks early in the second set. Williams then broke her opponent again en route to winning the final five games in front of the half-full stadium. She smiled as she walked to the net, and her family gave her a standing ovation.

Serena Williams, of the United States, smiles after defeating Zarina Diyas, of Kazakhstan, 7-5, 6-3 during the first round of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., Thursday, March 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Crystal Chatham)

 

"It definitely wasn't easy," Williams said on court. "We always have a couple tight sets. It was good. I'm a little rusty, but it doesn't matter. I'm just out here on this journey and doing the best I can."

Also in Williams' box were her mother Oracene, sisters Lyndrea and Isha, her agent, and her coach Patrick Mouratoglou. Older sister Venus watched from a balcony seat in an upper-level box on a 68-degree night in the Southern California desert.

Ohanian bought four billboards along Interstate 10 outside Palm Springs in tribute to his wife. The fourth billboard shows a photo of Williams and their daughter with the phrase "G.M.O.A.T" — greatest mother of all time — and is signed by Alexis Sr. and Jr.

Serena Williams' husband, Alexis Ohanian, watches Williams play Zarina Diyas, of Kazakhstan, during the first round of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., Thursday, March 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Crystal Chatham)

 

Now she's traveling the tour with her baby and sometimes her husband, when he isn't off working.

"I've never done this before," she said. "I know I'll make mistakes and I'm OK with that."

Williams' only competitive appearances since the birth came in December at an exhibition in Abu Dhabi, a Fed Cup doubles match with sister Venus last month and an exhibition in New York on Monday.

Another new mother, Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, won her first-round match over Heather Watson 6-4, 6-2.

Serena Williams, of the United States, hits a backhand to Zarina Diyas, of Kazakhstan, during the first round of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., Thursday, March 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Crystal Chatham)

 

The two-time winner of the desert tournament needed a wild card to get in because she has been off the tour since Wimbledon. Azarenka, who gave birth to son Leo in December 2016, has been in a custody fight that limited her travel.

In other first-round matches, CiCi Bellis overpowered qualifier Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-0, 6-3.

The 18-year-old American, who spurned a full scholarship from Stanford to turn pro last August, had her serve broken just once by the Spaniard in the 65-minute match. Bellis earned a second-round matchup with defending champion Elena Vesnina of Russia.

Bellis led five Americans into the second round. She was joined by wild card Danielle Collins and Jennifer Brady, who both got stretched to three sets. Taylor Fritz needed three sets to advance in the men's draw as did Mitchell Krueger and Jared Donaldson.

 

BNP Paribas Open Results

 

Singles
Men
First Round

Taylor Fritz, United States, def. Reilly Opelka, United States, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4.

Horacio Zeballos, Argentina, def. Yuichi Sugita, Japan, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-6 (4).

Jeremy Chardy, France, def. Julien Benneteau, France, 6-4, 7-6 (9).

Borna Coric, Croatia, def. Donald Young, United States, 6-0, 6-2.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Greece, def. Radu Albot, Moldova, 7-6 (2), 6-2.

Maximilian Marterer, Germany, def. Ivo Karlovic, Croatia, 6-7 (13), 7-6 (4), 6-3.

Dusan Lajovic, Serbia, def. Lukas Lacko, Slovakia, 6-4, 6-4.

Daniil Medvedev, Russia, def. Steve Johnson, United States, 7-6 (0), 6-4.

Fernando Verdasco, Spain, def. Guido Pella, Argentina, 6-2, 1-6, 6-2.

Federico Delbonis, Argentina, def. Ryan Harrison, United States, 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

Denis Shapovalov, Canada, def. Ricardas Berankis, Lithuania, 6-3, 6-4.

Mitchell Kruger, United States, def. Benoit Paire, France, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4.

Peter Polansky, Canada, def. Marius Copil, Romania, 7-6 (3), 6-7 (5), 7-6 (12).

Jared Donaldson, United States, def. E King, United States, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4.

Nicolas Kicker, Argentina, def. Jiri Vesely, Czech Republic, 7-5, 6-3.

Evgeny Donskoy, Russia, def. Karen Khachanov, Russia, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (4).

Women
First Round

Danielle Collins, United States, def. Taylor Townsend, United States, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Yanina Wickmayer, Belgium, def. Kayla Day, United States, 6-3, 6-2.

Monica Puig, Puerto Rico, def. Beatriz Haddad Maia, Brazil, 6-3, 7-6 (3).

Sorana Cirstea, Romania, def. Monica Niculescu, Romania, 6-2, 6-3.

Natalia Vikhlyantseva, Russia, def. Vera Zvonareva, Russia, 6-3, 6-2.

Ekaterina Makarova, Russia, def. Kirsten Flipkens, Belgium, 6-2, 6-4.

Mona Barthel, Germany, def. Veronica Cepeda Royg, Paraguay, 6-2, 6-1.

Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Belarus, def. Magda Linette, Poland, 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (4).

CiCi Bellis, United States, def. Sara Sorribes Tormo, Spain, 6-0, 6-3.

Sofya Zhuk, Russia, def. Alize Cornet, France, 7-5, 6-4.

Katerina Siniakova, Czech Republic, def. Christina McHale, United States, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (6).

Lara Arruabarrena, Spain, def. Lesia Tsurenko, Ukraine, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Hsieh Su-wei, Taiwan, def. Carina Witthoeft, Germany, 5-4, retired.

Jennifer Brady, United States, def. Mihaela Buzarnescu, Romania, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Serena Williams, United States, def. Zarina Diyas, Kazakhstan, 7-5, 6-3.

Victoria Azarenka, Belarus, def. Heather Watson, Britain, 6-4, 6-2.

 

Doubles
Women
First Round

Gabriela Dabrowski, Canada, and Xu Yifan (3), China, def. Ashleigh Barty, Australia, and CoCo Vandeweghe, United States, 1-6, 6-1, 10-6.

Nicole Melichar, United States, and Kveta Peschke, Czech Republic, def. Irina-Camelia Begu and Simona Halep, Romania, 6-3, 1-6 10-3.

Monica Niculescu, Romania, and Andrea Sestini Hlavackova (5), Czech Republic, def. Karolina and Kristyna Pliskova, Czech Republic, 6-2, 2-6, 10-4.

Timea Babos, Hungary, and Kristina Mladenovic (4), France, def. Nadiia Kichenok, Ukraine, and Anastasia Rodionova, Australia, 7-6 (3), 6-0.

Chan Hao-ching and Latisha Chan (2), Taiwan, def. Jelena Ostapenko and Anastasija Sevastova, Latvia, 6-2, 6-3.

Kateryna Bondarenko, Ukraine, and Aleksandra Krunic, Serbia, def. Raluca Olaru, Romania, and Olga Savchuk, Ukraine, 6-4, 4-6, 10-6.

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