Draw gods cruel as Osaka gets Serena in Miami

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The Indian Wells runs by finalist Daria Kasatkina and champion Naomi Osaka were a superb breath of fresh air for the WTA Tour.

The two sparkling 20-year-olds ran through many of the top players of the last decade on their way to the final Sunday, even if the final was somewhat of an anticlimax.

But getting to the top isn’t nearly as hard as staying there.

Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki, Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber and Venus Williams – all of whom fell to the two youngsters this week – have demonstrated that staying power, to various degrees.

They know, from experience, that it’s not what you do this week. It’s what you do next week, and the week after that, and the week after that.

Osaka is about to find out exactly what a challenge that is as she heads to the Miami Open. Because the draw gods have been particularly cruel to her.

After getting Maria Sharapova in the first round at Indian Wells, Osaka has drawn … the unseeded Serena Williams in the first round of the Miami Open.

That is just plain mean. For both of them.

A perfect draw storm

It might not have happened, but for the fact that the Miami tournament and the BNP Paribas Open are back-to-back. The 10-day span of the second straight Premier Mandatory event means Osaka’s pre-Indian Wells ranking is still used for seeding purposes.

That’s not just for Osaka, of course, but for all the players.

The Japanese No. 1 will be ranked No. 22 on Monday. But she was ranked No. 44 coming in, therefore was not the recipient of a first-round bye. Had Monday’s rankings been an option, she would not have had to face anyone – let alone eight-time Miami Open champ Williams – in the first round.

It also would have given her an extra couple of days to rest, process and make the significant adjustment from the weather and surface in the desert to the humid conditions in Miami.

Williams, whose official ranking stands at No. 495 after the BNP Paribas Open, can use a protected ranking to enter tournaments (although she received a wild card in Miami). 

But protected rankings do not allow for a player to be seeded. So for the moment, the longtime No. 1 will be a rank-and-file player in the draw of every tournament she plays.

Waiting for the winner  of Osaka vs. Williams will be Elina Svitolina, the world No. 4. So that’s no picnic for her, either.

That is one tough section of the draw. And two of them will be out before the tournament gets through the first weekend.

Kasatkina gets some draw luck

Contrast that with the first-round match that has two teenaged wild cards and 2017 Grand Slam junior champions, Whitney Osuigwe and Claire Liu, facing off. Or wild card Bernarda Pera and Lara Arruabarrena. Or even … qualifier vs. qualifier. 

Kasatkina, who went down rather meekly in Sunday’s final just two days after outlasting Venus Williams in the best women’s match of the tournament, got the better end of the deal in Miami.

By far.

She will be No. 11 in the world on Monday. Still, her pre-Indian Wells ranking puts her as the No. 19 seed in Miami. She has a first-round bye and will play the winner of Belinda Bencic and a qualifier in the second round.

The Miami draw holds plenty of intrigue from the very first rounds, as the other dangerous wild card, Victoria Azarenka, will meet American teenager CiCi Bellis in the first round. The winner of that will play the struggling Madison Keys.

Wind, Part II – Osaka’s Tweener tries (video)

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Naomi Osaka’s struggles with the “tweener” have been documented.

It’s not a necessary shot to have in the arsenal.

But it’s one any tennis player with a bit of sass will want to be able to pull out when needed.

So it was time to get a little help with it. And Russia’s Daria Kasatkina was conscripted for just that purpose.

A great “fun” player promo idea, it was.

Except that it was the worst possible day to try it.

Weather gods cruel

It’s not an easy shot as it is. But the way the wind was blowing on Saturday, it was darn near impossible – even for Kasatkina, who can hit that shot.

But hey, many laughs were had.