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Osaka seals first win on clay since 2022 in Madrid

Agence France-Presse
Osaka seals first win on clay since 2022 in Madrid
Japan’s Naomi Osaka celebrates her victory against Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva after their women's singles match of the Billie Jean Cup tennis qualifying tie between Japan and Kazakhstan in Tokyo on April 12, 2024.
Yuichi Yamazaki / AFP

MADRID, Spain – Naomi Osaka says she is "embracing the clay a lot more now" as she captured her first victory on the surface since 2022 in the Madrid Open first round on Wednesday (Thursday Manila time).

The Japanese former World No. 1 grew up playing on hard courts in the United States and has mostly struggled on the red dirt over the years.

But back at the Caja Magica for the first time in two years, Osaka looked comfortable during her 6-4, 6-1 win over Belgian lucky loser Greet Minnen to book a second-round meeting with 15th seed Liudmila Samsonova.

It was just the fourth victory on clay for Osaka since the start of 2021, and the four-time Grand slam champion is hopeful it won't be her last in Madrid this fortnight.

"I've had several 'incidents' on clay but I'm embracing it a lot more now," the 26-year-old Osaka told reporters in the Spanish capital.

"I feel like there's definitely beauty to it. I'm taking a lot of inspiration from people that do very well here. I'm not expecting to be like, Iga (Swiatek), or something, but I just want to do the best with what I have."

On Arantxa Sanchez stadium on Wednesday, Osaka was breezing through her service games in the opening set but couldn't convert any of her first three break point opportunities before she finally got the break she needed in the 10th game to take a one-set lead.

The second set was a stroll compared to the first as Osaka built a 5-0 advantage and secured the win with a backhand winner on the 79-minute mark.

"I think I slid a couple of times to my forehand pretty well, so I was excited about that," explained Osaka.

"She was hitting really good drop shots but I think I got to a couple quite well.

"I think just movement-wise I'm feeling a lot more comfortable. I think shot-wise, I hit a couple of heavy balls. Hopefully I'm able to continue that."

Osaka has extra motivation to do well on clay this season due to the fact the Olympic Games will be played on the red dirt at Roland Garros this summer.

"The Olympics are a really big goal for me. I would really love to play them," she said.

Raducanu struggles

Fellow former US Open champion Emma Raducanu was not as fortunate as the Briton fell 6-2, 6-2 to Argentinian qualifier Maria Lourdes Carle.

Raducanu has played just six matches this month — across three events — but blamed mental and physical fatigue for her performance and said she will take a few days off to rest after competing in the Billie Jean King Cup, Stuttgart and Madrid in the last two weeks.

"I think from the performance today it was very clear that mentally and emotionally I was exhausted," said Raducanu.

"I was trying to push through. I was pushing through Stuttgart and was just unable to push through today. It's a shame that I was feeling so good on the court and today happened but I guess this sport is just pretty brutal."

Fresh off a title run in Rouen last week, 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens picked up a sixth consecutive win on clay with a hard-fought 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 success against Italian Martina Trevisan.

Home favorite and former World No. 2 Paula Badosa, who is struggling with long-term back pain since she sustained a stress fracture last year, crashed out 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 to Spanish qualifier Jessica Bouzas Maneiro.

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NAOMI OSAKA

TENNIS

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