Osaka clay campaign ramps up

FORMER world number one Naomi Osaka is through to the second round at Rome after accounting for Frenchwoman Clara Burel in straight sets. The Japanese star, who is currently ranked 173rd in the world, overcame a tough first set to win 7-6 6-1 and pick up her first Top 50 victory on clay in almost four years.

Osaka’s last win on clay against a Top 50 opponent came at the 2019 Roland Garros when she knocked off Victoria Azarenka, and in defeating the French world number 45 yesterday, booked her place in the Italian WTA 1000 Masters event Round of 64.

Still building her form upon her return with a 9-8 win-loss record coming into the match, Osaka was able to win the last five points of the tiebreaker in set one to close it out cleanly, before running away with the match in the second set.

Osaka needed just one hour and 24 minutes to seal the win, producing 27 winners to Burel’s 10, while also serving eight aces without a double fault. Her first serve win percentage was an elite 82 per cent.

“I was just telling myself, like, my forehand’s one of my biggest weapons, and I shouldn’t be too discouraged,” Osaka said post-match. “I knew the shots that I was going for that I missed were good-intentioned.

“I was just telling myself that was probably a result of nerves and I just have to keep going for my shots and eventually or hopefully they start going in.”

Even when having the chance to close out the first set far easier when serving for it at 5-3, Osaka said she did not panic as her French opponent broke back and took the set to a tiebreaker.

“I think obviously I was up 5-3, I was serving for the set, and I lost that,” Osaka said, “I think just being able to hang in there and eventually close it on my terms is something that I’m very proud of myself for. I obviously played a lot better in the second set. I’m hoping that when I play my match tomorrow, I’m able to learn from the mistakes that I did today and apply them better.”

Osaka will take on 19th seeded Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk in the Round of 64, with the winner of that match to play either 10th seeded Russian Daria Kasatkina or world number 65 Tatjana Maria.

Maria booked her place in the second round with a hard-fought epic win over Czech young gun qualifier Linda Fruhvirtova. The other big results ended with Croatians being on the losing side of matches as Donna Vekic and Petra Martic both bowed out to Lesia Tsurenko and Mayar Sherif respectively. Talented Russian Elina Avanesyan also defeated Spaniard Cristina Bucsa in another two and a half hour contest.

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