Resurgent Osaka ready for clay and grass – “I have just have to get my mentality together”
Success on clay has been elusive for Naomi Osaka, but the four-time major champion is eager to tackle the challenge this year after a strong run in Miami.
After a soaring run to the Miami final, Naomi Osaka had her wings clipped by the hottest player on the WTA Tour on Saturday as she fell to Iga Swiatek in the final, 6-4, 6-0. But the experience of playing her first final in 14 months, since she won her fourth major title at the 2021 Australian Open, has Osaka hungry for more experience.
The 24-year-old will now turn her attention to the clay, a surface that hasn’t been her best in the past, with renewed aspirations.
Osaka – heading to Europe to train a week before Madrid
Osaka has only played five matches on clay since the pandemic started, but she plans to play a fuller schedule on the clay this year, starting with the Madrid Open. Osaka will head to Europe to train on the red clay a week before Madrid, and she says she has high hopes that she can set a new standard for herself on the surface.
Her desire to play better on the clay is something she has been talking about more frequently of late. Last year, before Roland-Garros, she called her clay game a work in progress.
“I’d say it’s a work on progress,” Osaka said. “Hopefully the more I play the better it’ll get. If I play more matches, then hopefully I’ll get better.”
In order to get more matches on the surface Osaka will have to win more matches. She did that in 2019 when she won nine of 11 matches on clay, reaching the semi-finals at Stuttgart, and the quarter-finals at Madrid and Rome.
She hopes the extra training block later this month will set her on that path again.
“I’m gonna try to take this clay court season really seriously, so I’m actually going to go to Europe a week before to train on the red clay,” she said.
Osaka – I’ll do whatever it takes
The 24-year-old has worked hard – both mentally and physically – to get back into top form after facing many difficulties that have derailed her since she withdrew from Roland-Garros last year due to mental health reasons. Now she is in a place where she feels she can embrace the process of developing her clay game.
“I know that French Open is far away, and the clay season is upcoming, but I think my goal there is just to like keep a positive outlook on life,” she said. “I’m going to watch a lot of Nadal videos to see how he moves. Shout out, Alcaraz, because he’s killing it.”
Osaka also sees the grass the same way.
“I just think that knowing I’m still a student and I have to keep learning. Clay and grass is something I really want to tackle this year. So I’m willing kind of to do whatever it takes to get good results. Not that results are everything, but I really want to do well.”
Sabalenka’s success at Madrid a motivator
Osaka is quick to admit her level needs to come up on clay, but she says she believes she can have success on the surface. She cited Aryna Sabalenka’s title at Madrid last year as an example for a power-based player like herself to follow.
“I’m clearly not a clay expert, but, you know, I feel like if I get my movement together, I should be pretty good. I grew up on green clay, being from here, so it shouldn’t be that foreign to me. And I know, you know, Madrid, Sabalenka won that last year, so I think that there is opportunities for me to do well, as well.
“I think I just have to get my mentality together to know that every match would be a fight.”