Osaka is still finding her game on clay

Osaka is still finding her game on clay
Osaka is still finding her game on clay

And already, in 2019, Osaka had a complicated relationship with clay, having difficulty adapting her power and her infernal rhythm to it, which was the recipe for her success on hard court.

Five years later, the Japanese made a successful return to the Italian Open, as wild card, passing the first round against Clara Burel (7-6, 6-1). His second victory of the season, only, on ocher.

Working again with Wim Fissette since his return to competition, Osaka admitted that she and her coach are still looking for the best plan to adapt her hitting game to clay.

“It’s a bit hard for me because during my defeat in Madrid (against Liudmila Samsonova in the second round), I was clearly too defensive compared to what I would have wanted,” Osaka explained in a conference press after his success against Burel on Wednesday.

“To be honest, I’m not sure it was because of playing on clay. I think I just wanted to play more rallies against her.”

“Today (Wednesday, against Clara Burel in Rome), I told Wim (Fissette) that I wanted to go much harder. And obviously that’s not what happened.”

Can the “two-stroke” style be effective on clay?

While the aggressive, “two-stroke” style, blending wonderfully with fast surfaces, has not tended to be successful on European clay, it is interesting to note – as the did Osaka – that a former Roland-Garros winner triumphed there with this type of game.

“Sometimes I think about (Jelena) Ostapenko winning Roland Garros, so maybe I should just stick to my guns,” Osaka said.

“To be honest, I’m not really trying to smash the ball. That’s just what’s happening. I want to put more lift.”

“When I’m finally able to do that, my ball will definitely be pretty heavy; so I think that will be my clay court game.”

There is something fascinating about hearing a player of Osaka’s caliber talk about her need to adjust to clay, especially since her previous results on this surface have been hopeful.

During her previous participation in Rome, in 2019, she reached the quarter-finals, as she had done just before in Madrid the same year.

osaka is still looking for landmarks on clay

However, we must not forget that Osaka has played very little on earth in the last five years. A handicap, knowing that this surface is already far from being her favorite, which makes her almost start from scratch with her coach, Wim Fissette, to try to become an effective player on crushed brick.

While there’s no reason why Osaka won’t eventually become a very good player on the sandy surface, her style of play probably won’t allow her to reach the same heights as a power-armed Iga Swiatek. a heavy lift and natural slides.

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

“The way she stays at the number 1 spot by going far in all the tournaments is something I can’t even imagine, when I compare to the time when I was number 1 for five seconds (smile ). I think she’s great for our sport.”

“I also think seeing (Aryna) Sabalenka having great results is great. I hope I can face them both.”

Back on the circuit since January 2024 after 16 months of absence and a pregnancy, Osaka is still looking for her rhythm. But, with time, achieving big results, his comeback could be one of the most thrilling stories to follow.

At the best of her form, and her power, Osaka was almost unstoppable on hard, to the point of winning two titles at the US Open, and two titles at the Australian Open.

The season on earth may not be one of rebirth for the former world number 1, but it will be an interesting indicator to assess her level.

A good run from Osaka to Rome or Paris could give the rest of the peloton something to worry about ahead of the North American hard-court season, where its strike force could once again wreak havoc this summer.

After all, it could only be a matter of time before Osaka returns to the heights reached during her golden Grand Slam era.

A possible return to favor which would shake up the hierarchy established in the upper echelons of the WTA rankings in recent years.

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