Osaka's Serve Lets Her Down During Disappointing Indian Wells Exit To Mertens

Osaka's Serve Lets Her Down During Disappointing Indian Wells Exit To Mertens

by Jordan Reynolds

Naomi Osaka is out of the Indian Wells Open after Elise Mertens proved to be too solid for the Japanese star.

The four-time Grand Slam champion's comeback to professional tennis continues to attract much attention. Her opening two matches in Indian Wells had been a source of optimism for her fans.

Osaka overcame a slow start to beat Sara Errani in the opening round. She played very well in the second set of that contest, but Osaka still gave an honest verdict about her level in comments she made afterwards.

The next match was even better for the 26-year-old. Osaka won a tight opening set in a win against Liudmila Samsonova, who was the 14th seed at the event. It showed the progress she had made since the start of the season.

However, Mertens represented a different kind of challenge for the two-time US Open champion. The Belgian has a very solid all-court game with few weaknesses. This meant Osaka needed to have all elements of her game firing.

Unfortunately for Osaka, she started the match very slowly. Her first-serve percentage in her opening two service games was barely over 20%. Despite saving five break points in those games, she was still broken on both occasions to trail 3-0.

Osaka then improved to hit back. Although her first-serve percentage remained low, she dominated from the baseline for three games to break Mertens twice and level the score at 3-3.

With the score at 5-5, Osaka made a string of mistakes to be broken to love. The Belgian duly served out the set to take it 7-5. Osaka ended the set with a first-serve percentage of just 32%.

The four-time Grand Slam champion also started the second set by being broken, but that game included some terrific hitting from the baseline by Mertens, who was picking her moments to attack perfectly.

Osaka broke back in the sixth game after some uncharacteristic errors from Mertens. However, once again, the 2018 Indian Wells Open champion struggled to find first serves and paid for it by being broken again in the next game.

Mertens had to held her nerve superbly to finish the job. The Belgian fell 15-40 behind when serving for the match, but kept her cool to extract more errors from Osaka, before stunning her opponent with a second-serve ace on another break point.

Mertens defeated her illustrious opponent 7-5 6-4. It is a setback for Osaka, but she will undoubtedly keep improving throughout the season.


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