Osaka frustrated at clay court 'mental block'

·2-min read
Naomi Osaka will warm up for the French Open on clay in Rome

Naomi Osaka conceded she found playing outside her comfort zone on clay frustrating as the world number two continues her warm-up for the French Open at the WTA tournament in Rome.

Osaka 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 Japanese 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.

"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."

ea/mw