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

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

By STEVEN WINE

AP Sports Writer

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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Updated March 19, 2018

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