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Naomi Osaka rallies to beat Sloane Stephens in return to Indian Wells

(Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)

Naomi Osaka was down but not out Friday at the BNP Paribas Open, rallying against Sloane Stephens to take a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory.

It’s Osaka’s first win against Stephens in three matchups in what was a much-anticipated first-round clash at the Indian Wells tournament. The two last played in the 2018 WTA Finals in Shenzhen and had their first meeting in Acapulco in 2016.

It was also Osaka’s first time back at Indian Wells in three years. She withdrew last year, citing mental health reasons.

Osaka led the first set 3-1, 30-0 before Stephens made a five-game run to take the first set. Osaka then rebounded, winning the first four games of the second set and giving up just one game to take a 6-1 win in the second. In the decider, she went down 0-2 before saving three break points and mounting the comeback win.

The winds were high inside Stadium 1, with sustained desert gusts wreaking havoc on 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,” said Osaka, currently ranked No. 78 in the world. “I’ve also never played a match that was that windy, so it was also a new experience.

“I haven’t played in wind like that for a while, so this was very new to me. I felt like I was fighting for my life. I was playing against her; I was playing against the wind. It was crazy. I just kept thinking she was going through the same circumstances as me, so I just had to will myself to try as hard as I could.”

Osaka will next take on Veronika Kudermetova.

Elsewhere, Amanda Anisimova cruised past Emma Navarro in just 53 minutes, securing the 6-2, 6-2 win. She’ll take on Canadian teen phenom Leylah Fernandez in the second round.