Naomi Osaka made a winning return to Indian Wells on Thursday with a hard fought 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 win over Sloane Stephens.
2018 champion Osaka, who last played in Melbourne in January, took time to find her way on court, losing the first set before bouncing back in style.
Osaka fought off three break points to hold and begin a run of six straight games to close out the match, breaking Stephens three times, in an hour and 53 minutes.
But it was the desert wind that almost caught Osaka out.
“I haven’t played in wind like that for a while, so this was very new to me,” she said afterwards.
“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.”
Also advancing on Thursday were Kazalhstan’s Yulia Putintseva, who defeated defeated Ashlyn Krueger, 6-3, 6-2, Poland’s Magdalena Frech, who beat Mayar Sherif, 6-2, 7-5, Czech Tereza Martincova defeated Heather Watson, 6-2, 2-1, Australia’s Daria Saville beat Shuai Zhang, 6-3, 6-2, and Italy’s Jasmine Paolini, who beat Brit Katie Boulter 6-3, 6-2.
Former world No. 4 Caroline Garcia shook off a second set loss to defeat Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska, 6-4, 6-7 (8), 7-5 as the main draw at Indian Wells got under way on Thursday.