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MX News Update 2024

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Osaka still feels the best approach on clay

Even in 2019, Osaka’s relationship with clay was complicated, with the Japanese player often struggling to reproduce the blistering pace and power that defined her formidable hard-court game.

Five years later, the former world number 1 has made a winning return at the Italian Open. She defeated Clara Burel in the first round and recorded only her second victory on clay this season.

Now reunited with former coach Wim Fissette, Osaka admits they are still searching for the perfect clay court game plan to suit her big-hitting style.

“It was quite tough for me because when I played my last match in Madrid, I was obviously much more defensive than I would have liked,” Osaka said in her post-match press conference following today’s win.

“To be honest, I’m not sure if it was because of the gravel. I guess I just wanted to play some more rallies with her.

“Today I told Wim that I wanted to come out much stronger. That clearly didn’t happen. So yeah, it’s a bit of a back and forth with me.

Can first-strike tennis be effective on clay?

While aggressive first-strike tennis has not typically yielded great success on the clay courts of Europe, lending itself more to faster hard courts, it is worth noting – as Osaka did – that this allowed a former Roland-Garros champion won the title. offensive, boom-or-bust approach.

“Sometimes I think Ostapenko won the French Open, so maybe I should just stick to my guns,” Osaka continued.

“To be honest, I don’t really try to hit the ball. That’s exactly what happens. I think I just want to put more spin on it and spin it a lot more.

“I think if I can finally achieve that, it will obviously be quite tough, so I thought this would be my clay tennis.”

It’s interesting to hear a player of Osaka’s caliber still talking about the process of adapting her game to a particular surface, especially since her previous results on clay have actually indicated promise on the surface.

In her last appearance in Rome in 2019, Osaka reached the quarter-finals, as she did the week before in Madrid.

Osaka still finds her feet on clay

However, it should be noted that Osaka has been out of clay for almost five years now. For a court that was never her favorite surface, that long time away may mean she and coach Fissette are essentially starting from scratch when it comes to building it into an effective clay court.

While there is no reason at all why Osaka cannot develop into a good player on European dirt, her playing style will likely not allow her to reach the heights that fellow WTA player Iga Swiatek reaches on clay, with her heavy topspin -foundations and effortless gliding. defense.

“I always say this, but I think she’s incredible,” Osaka said of the Pole.

“The way she can stay No. 1 and consistently perform well at all tournaments is something that I honestly can’t imagine or fathom when I was No. 1 for about five seconds (smiling). Yeah, I mean, I think she’s great for the sport.

“I also think it’s great, great fun to see Sabalenka doing so well. I hope one day I can play them both.”

Osaka’s return to tour is one of the slower stories of the 2024 season so far, but will – in time – be one of the most fascinating storylines to unfold.

On her free-flowing, big hitting power, Osaka was almost unstoppable, especially on the hard courts of Melbourne and New York, where she was a four-time Grand Slam winner in the two cities.

The clay court may not be where the former world number 1 rekindles her very best form, but it will still be a crucial indicator of where her overall game is.

A good run in Rome or Paris for Osaka should send ominous signals to the rest of the field as soon as the tours return to hard courts later this summer.

After all, it will only be a matter of time before Osaka will once again reach the heights of her golden Grand Slam winning days.