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Serena to face rising star Osaka in 1st round at Miami Open

STEVEN WINE (AP Sports Writer)
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Serena to face rising star Osaka in 1st round at Miami Open

Naomi Osaka, of Japan, reacts to defeating Daria Kasatkina, of Russia, in the women's final at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament, Sunday, March 18, 2018, in Indian Wells, Calif. Osaka won 6-3, 6-2. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) -- It has never happened before: an opening-round match pitting a player who just won her first tennis title against a 23-time Grand Slam champion.

Naomi Osaka, a rising star who won Indian Wells on Sunday, will face Serena Williams in the first round of the Miami Open on Wednesday. It's a freakishly difficult way for both players to start a tournament.

''The luck of the draw,'' tournament director James Blake said Monday. ''It's great in one sense - we have an unbelievable blockbuster match for Wednesday. But one of them is going to be gone unfortunately by Thursday.''

The marquee matchup at the outset of the two-week tournament came about because neither player is seeded. Osaka is ranked a career-best No. 22, while Williams is ranked No. 491 after becoming a mother and returning to the tour at Indian Wells following a layoff of more than a year.

Osaka, a 20-year-old slugger from Japan, earned the biggest victory her career when she beat Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 6-2 in the Indian Wells final. Along with the title she won $1.3 million, nearly doubling her career earnings.

Serena lost in the third round at Indian Wells to her sister Venus. An eight-time Key Biscayne champion, Serena enters the tournament as a wild card and has never faced Osaka.

''We'll see a lot of heavy hitting,'' Blake said. ''Both of them hit the ball so big. There are a lot of story lines. How is Naomi going to react to winning her first big title? There's the cross-country flight. Is she going to be nervous playing Serena now that expectations are higher?''

Osaka lost just one set at Indian Wells and beat Maria Sharapova and top-ranked Simona Halep en route to the title.

''But anyone who is counting Serena out,'' Blake said, ''is doing so at their peril.''

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