'Not comfortable': Naomi Osaka's startling admission ahead of French Open

·5-min read
Naomi Osaka is pictured here looking frustrated during a match on clay.
Naomi Osaka has admitted that she's still not comfortable playing on clay. Pic: Getty

Naomi Osaka has laid bare her reservations about playing on clay, in a concerning admission ahead of the French Open.

The Japanese superstar is set to face America's Jessica Pegula in her first match at the Italian Open tomorrow, in what is the final clay tournament before the French Open gets underway at the end of the month.

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A four-time major winner, Osaka has never made it past the third round at Roland-Garros and her record on clay compared to other surfaces is particularly underwhelming.

The 23-year-old already has seven career titles to her name but tellingly, has never won a tour-level event on the red dirt.

She 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.

Speaking ahead of her Italian Open match, Osaka offered a candid assessment about her game on clay, that perhaps does not bode well for her French Open prospects.

Pictured here, Naomi Osaka with her Laureus Sportswoman of the Year award.
Naomi Osaka was recently named the Laureus Sportswoman of the Year. Pic: Getty

"I'm not sure if I should be telling you this, but 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."

Osaka is in the same half of the draw as four-time Rome winner Serena Williams, who hasn't played since losing to Osaka in the Australian Open semi-final, and defending champion Simona Halep of Romania.

Before then she opens in the second round against either Russia's 37th-ranked Daria Kasatkina or American Jessica Pegula, the world number 33.

"Honestly, I feel like that's the reason why I'm here for match prep," said Osaka, whose best showing at the tournament was a quarter-final run in 2019.

And she welcomed the extra week of warm-up before Roland Garros, even if it means less time at home before the Tokyo Olympics.

"In the beginning I was a bit sad because it means more time away from home.

"But at the same time I feel like I need the extra time on clay, especially with my past results. Hopefully I do better here.

"But I'm not really mad at, I guess, grinding on clay and practising here for a couple more weeks."

Osaka conflicted over Olympic Games

Over the weekend, Osaka also weighed in on whether the Tokyo Olympics should go ahead this year, amid growing outrage in Japan and calls to cancel it due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"For me, I feel like if it's putting people at risk and if it's making people very uncomfortable, then it definitely should be a discussion, which I think it is as of right now," the four-time Grand Slam winner said ahead of the Rome WTA tournament.

"Of course I would say I want the Olympics to happen, because I'm an athlete and that's sort of what I have been waiting for my entire life.

"But I think that there is so much important stuff going on, and especially the past year, I think a lot of unexpected things have happened.

"At the end of the day I'm just an athlete, and there is a whole pandemic going on."

Naomi Osaka is seen on the left with Tokyo Olympic Games protesters on the right.
Naomi Osaka has serious concerns about the Tokyo Olympic Games being staged later this year. Pic: Getty

Japan has extended a state of emergency in Tokyo until the end of May and is struggling to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases, raising further questions about whether the Games should go on. 

Its vaccination rate is the lowest among wealthy nations.

A public opinion poll conducted at the weekend by TBS News found 65 per cent wanted the Games cancelled or postponed, with 37 per cent voting to scrap the event altogether and 28 per cent calling for another delay.

More than 300,000 people have signed a petition to cancel the Games in roughly five days since it was launched, and protesters have been taking to the streets in Japan to make their feelings known.

with agencies

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