Tennis world erupts over Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams news

Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, pictured here at the Rally for Relief in 2020.
Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams at the Rally for Relief in Melbourne in 2020. (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)

Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka are scheduled for a mouth-watering quarter-final clash at the Italian Open in what could be their first match-up since the Australian Open semis.

The draw for the clay-court event in Rome was released on Sunday, with No.2 seed Osaka and No.8 seed Williams on the same side.

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If both progress to the quarter-finals they will face each other for a chance to play in the semi-finals.

It would be the first time Osaka and Williams play each other since the semi-finals of the Australian Open in February, where Osaka got the better of her idol.

Williams later left her post-match press conference in tears, sparking speculation that she'd played her last grand slam at Melbourne Park.

Osaka also famously beat Williams in the US Open final in 2018 - a match that was overshadowed by Williams' ugly clash with chair umpire Carlos Ramos.

Williams, a four-time champion in Rome in 2002, 2013, 2014 and 2016, will also be playing for the first time since the Australian Open.

Osaka's best result at the event was a quarter-final berth in 2019.

The World No.2 has never won a tour-level event on the red dirt while at the French Open, which starts on May 30, she is yet to make it past the third round.

The four-time grand slam champion was dumped out of the Madrid Open in the second round last week, having taken almost a month off following her quarter-final exit in Miami.

Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, pictured here after their Australian Open semi-final clash.
Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams embrace after their Australian Open semi-final clash. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

"I'm just not that comfortable on it (clay) still, and I'm not sure if it's because I need to play longer on it or if I just haven't grown up on it," Osaka told a press conference in Rome on Sunday.

Osaka has played just two matches on clay since the 2019 French Open having skipped last year's grand slam because of injury.

"Mentally it's a bit harder because you have to structure the points differently," she continued.

"There are bad bounces and stuff. I get quite frustrated. So, yeah, mentally I think it's a bit more taxing.

"But I think as soon as I get that sort of block out of my mind, then I'll be more open to the mistakes.

"Right now, I'm taking everything as a learning process, and I'm trying not to be so hard on myself."

Ash Barty set for another clash with Sabalenka

On the other side of the draw, Ash Barty and Aryna Sabalenka are projected to meet in the fourth round after Sabalenka downed the World No.1 in the Madrid Open final.

Barty now leads Sabalenka 2-1 this season, though it's 1-1 in 2021 finals and 4-4 overall.

"All of our matches are always close. There's always just a couple of points, a couple of games," said Barty.

"It's always a very fine line against the best players in the world that you have to kind of tread. Sometimes you have to take that risk, other times they're going to find a way to win the match.

"That's the beauty of our sport. Every time you step on the court, there's an uncertainty.

"You go out there and you just try your best on that given day. If it's enough, it's enough. If it's not, that's all right as well."

Aryna Sabalenka and Ash Barty, pictured here after the Madrid Open final.
Aryna Sabalenka and Ash Barty pose with their trophies after the Madrid Open final. (Photo by Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In what has been a remarkably fruitful two-and-a-half weeks, Barty has played 10 singles matches, six of them being demanding three-setters, and four doubles, lifting two titles in Stuttgart and reaching the singles final in Madrid.

Asked if that amount of court time was beginning to catch up with her physically, Barty, who's flown straight off to Rome, said: "Yeah, it's a good problem to have.

"I think any time you can play a lot of matches and a lot of tennis, it means you're putting yourself out there over and over again.

"Of course, there was a little bit of fatigue. Aryna also played a lot of tennis. There wasn't much physically in it. It was more she was able to take her opportunity at the end."

with agencies

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