Naomi Osaka picked up a solid victory after returning from an extended layoff on Thursday when she defeated fellow former US Open champion Sloane Stephens at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

After losing the first set 6-3 in windy conditions, the former Japanese world No. 1 won the next two sets 6-1, 6-2 to secure the first-round win and set up a meeting with Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova, 21 seeds. .

Naomi Osaka responds to the cheers after her win over Sloane Stephens in the women’s singles first round match at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on March 10, 2022. (For Editorial Use Only)(Kyodo)

The match was Osaka’s first since January’s Australian Open where, as defending champion, she lost in the round of 16.

“To play against Sloane, she just won a tournament and I’m sure she feels really confident with herself, it was a really good test for me,” Osaka said, according to the WTA website. Tower.

“But at the same time, I need to play a lot more games and I have to give myself the opportunity to be more on the pace.”

It was the first time Osaka got the better of American Stephens in three tries, their last meeting having been at the 2018 WTA Finals in Singapore.

Both players fell from their career-best rankings, with Osaka slipping from No. 1 to 78 in the world and Stephens from No. 3 to 38.

Osaka’s drop in the rankings can be attributed to a lack of activity, but she said after the win she hopes to get back into the groove in the United States.

“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 rhythm of things with this swing. American on the hard courts,” said Osaka, who won her first career title at Indian Wells in 2018.

Fellow Japanese Misaki Doi takes on American Madison Keys in a round of 16 match on Friday. Doi has only beaten Keys twice in seven attempts and not since 2017.