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Osaka Beats Bencic, Becomes Lowest-Ranked Miami Finalist

Naomi Osaka of Japan reacts after defeating Belinda Bencic of Switzerland during a semifinal round match of the Miami Open tennis tournament at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, USA, 31 March 2022. EPA-EFE/ERIK S. LESSER

Turbulence swirled around Naomi Osaka on Hard Rock Stadium.

Staring down a 1-4 deficit to nemesis Belinda Bencic, the former No. 1 watched the Swiss send returns buzzing by her.

Osaka pumped her fist repeatedly, rocketed 18 aces and stuck a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 landing bursting by Bencic into her first Miami Open final.

The world No. 77 is the lowest-ranked Miami Open finalist in history and will aim to become the lowest-ranked tournament champion in Miami history in Sunday’s 1 p.m. final against either red-hot Indian Wells champion Iga Swiatek, who is riding a 15-match winning streak, or aggressive American baseliner Jessica Pegula.

Afterward, an emotional Osaka pushed back tears of joy with her orange towel advancing to her first final since she stopped Serena Williams and Jennifer Brady back-to-back to capture her fourth major title at the 2021 Australian Open.

“Honestly, thank you everyone,” Osaka said in her on-court interview with Andrew Krasny afterward. “Damn I’m almost crying, but anyways I just wanted to say thank you.

“This tournament really means a lot to me… Thank you guys so much and I really love you from the bottom of my heart so thank you.”

As kid growing up in Florida, Osaka dreamed of reaching rare air while the sound of passing aircrafts echoed in her ears.  The Florida public hard court Osaka and older sister Mari Osaka waged daily battles on was a runway to her tennis dreams—and sometimes sounded like a landing strip for a nearby airport.

“Of course, I have really fond memories whenever I come back to Florida and play this tournament,” Osaka said. “For me playing on those public courts with my sister, it shaped me in the way that I was very tolerant just because we would play for hours on end.

“I played on these courts right next to an airport. So I guess I got used to loud noise too as well. It was really fun times and I always have a lot of good memories whenever I come back here.”

Regardless of ranking, Osaka remains one of the most explosive players on Tour when she’s invested and firing with accuracy and ambition.