Four-Time Grand Slam Champion Naomi Osaka Targets First Title On Clay In Madrid - UBITENNIS
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Four-Time Grand Slam Champion Naomi Osaka Targets First Title On Clay In Madrid

She is yet to play a WTA final on the surface but could that be about to change?

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Naomi Osaka training at the 2021 Madrid Open (image by Media Hub Mutua Madrid Open)

Despite the various accolades Naomi Osaka has already achieved in her career, there remains one surface which she is yet to conquer – the clay.

 

Still only 23, the Japanese star has already won both the US Open and Australian Open twice, as well as becoming the first Asian player in history to reach No.1 in the world. Overall she has featured in 10 WTA finals and has won seven of them with all of those occurring on a hard court. She had been on a 23-match winning streak before losing to Maria Sakkari in the quarter-finals of the Miami Open earlier this year.

Osaka’s focus now turns to the clay and in particular Madrid where she will play her first tournament on the surface this season. It has been almost two years since she last played a WTA event on the clay at the 2019 French Open where she lost in the third round.

“I feel for me it’s exciting to go into the clay court swing because I haven’t won a tournament on clay yet,” she told reporters ahead of the Madrid Open. “Even though that does make me a bit excited, it also gives me a bit of, like, stress because I really want to do well here.’
“I think I was just preparing for anything.”

In the past there has been numerous theories as to why the world No.2 is yet to excel on the clay. In Osaka’s view she believes a key aspect is related to the mental side of the game. She is coached on the Tour Wim Fissette who has also previously worked with the likes of Victoria Azarenka, Kim Clijsters and Angelique Kerber.

I think for me, I do better when I don’t stress myself out and tell myself that I have to win a tournament. But it’s really hard to fight that feeling when you really want something,” she said.
“At the end of the day, I haven’t played a clay tournament in, like, two years. I haven’t touched clay in two years either, so… I’m just going in here (Madrid) just trying to have fun and trying to build match play for the French (Open).”

In one respect the conditions in Madrid do favour Osaka’s game style. The city has an elevation of more than 600 meters above sea level which means the high altitude makes the ball travel faster compared to other clay events. Osaka has played in the tournament on three previous occasions with her best run being to the quarter-finals in 2019.

“I can’t remember how I felt the last time I was here playing. But I do know that I think I’m hitting the ball pretty well,” she commented.
“I can only hope that for now that’s good enough. Maybe when I play my matches I’ll be able to adjust a lot better. As of right now, I don’t really have that much experience to be able to tell what’s good on clay and what’s not good on clay.”

Seeded second in Madrid this year, Osaka will start her campaign against either a qualifier or lucky loser.

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Rafael Nadal moves into Rome semifinal after straight-set win over Alexander Zverev

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Rafael Nadal beat Alexander Zverev 6-3 6-4 in two hours to reach the semifinal at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. 

 

Zverev, who won his marathon clash against Kei Nishikori late last night, converted just one of his ten break points. Nadal converted his three break points to win the match in straight set one day after saving two match points to take an epic win over Denis Shapovalov. 

Nadal won the first game at 15 after a backhand crosscourt winner and earned a break after a double fault from Zverev. 

Nadal won the third game at love after a service winner and earned his second break to race out to a 4-0 lead after 16 minutes after a backhand error from Zverev. 

Zverev pulled one break back when Nadal netted a backhand in the fifth game. 

Zverev held serve at 30 in the sixth game before Nadal won his next service game with a forehand winner at the net. 

When serving for the set at 5-3, Nadal saved a break point and converted his first se point. 

Nadal fended off a break point and closed out the first set with a service winner. 

Zverev saved a break point in the first game of the second set and earned three break points at 2-1. Nadal fended them off with his serve and forehands and won the game with a forehand winner. 

Zverev wasted three game points allowing Nadal to get a break. 

Nadal saved two break points to hold serve with a crosscourt forehand winner for 4-2. Zverev earned three break points, as Nadal served for the win at 5-4, but the Spaniard saved them. Nadal sealed the win with a serve and volley. 

Nadal has improved his head-to-head record to 6-3 against Zverev and avenged his recent defeat against his younger German rival in the Madrid quarter finals last week.

The Spanish legend has got through to his 12th semifinal in Rome. 

“I am happy. I played a very solid match with not many mistakes, playing the way that I have to. It is an important victory for me against a great player”, said Nadal. 

Nadal set up a semifinal against Reilly Opelka, who has reached his first Masters 1000 semifinal on clay with a 7-5 7-6 (7-2) win over Federico Delbonis after 1 hour and 41 minutes on at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia at the Foro Italico in Rome. 

“I will face a big chance against a player who has almost an unreturnable serve. Reilly is playing well. I need to be very focused with my serve and try to be ready to accept the situation and be engaged on the return. That is what I am looking for. I think I played more solid than in Madrid. At the same time conditions are different. In Madrid Zverev was able to create a lot of damage with his serve and the first shot. Here, the situation is a little bit different. These are a little bit more normal conditions on the clay, so I was able to control a little bit more the game than in Madrid”, said Nadal. 

Opelka saved all four break points he faced in his debut at the Rome Masters 1000. The US player has not dropped a set en route to the semifinal. 

“I am surprised to reach my first Masters 1000 semifinal. Clay is not really my thing. It is not much of an American thing. It is probably just a fluke, but I will run with it. I have definitely served well. I hit my spots really well today, especially in big moments. I think that has been critical I have stayed calm and on big points. I have delivered”, said Opelka. 

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Lorenzo Sonego upsets Dominic Thiem to reach his second Masters 1000 quarter final in Rome

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Lorenzo Sonego upset fourth seed Dominic Thiem 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-5) after a 3-hour and 24 minute marathon match to reach the quarter finals at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. 

 

Before his third round match against Thiem, Sonego had won just one of his seven head-to-head matches against top 10 players. Last year the 26-year-old Turin native took an upset win over world number 1 Novak Djokovic in the Vienna semifinal. 

Sonego avenged his defeat against Thiem, who won their only previous head-to-head match in Kitzbuhel in 2019. 

The Italian player reached the second Masters 1000 quarter final of his career after making the last eight in Monte-Carlo two years ago. 

Sonego converted his second break point in the seventh game to take a 4-3 lead and claimed the opening set on his first opportunity in the 10th game. 

Thiem saved a total of four break points in the ninth and eleventh games in the second set, which went on serve en route to the tie-break. Thiem got two mini-breaks and converted his second set point to win the tie-break 7-5. After a 22-minute delay to clear fans out of Grand Stand Arena due to curfew, Sonego opened a 2-0 lead with a break in the second game. Thiem rallied by winning four consecutive games with two breaks to take a 4-2 lead. Thiem earned a chance to serve for the quarter finals at 5-4. Sonego saved a match point to take the match to the tie-break. Sonego got his first mini-break to take a 2-0 lead. Thiem pulled back on serve to draw level to 2-2. Sonego went up a 5-3 with his second mini-break, but Thiem broke back for the second time to draw level to 5-5. Sonego got his third mini-break to take the second tie-break 7-5. 

Sonego will face Andrey Rublev in the quarter finals. The Russian player won his only previous head-to-head match against Sonego in the Vienna final last year. 

“It’s amazing, an unbelievably emotional moment for me because I am in Italy with fans for two sets. I am so happy for this victory, for this match. Thiem is the best player on clay with Nadal. It was not easy to play two sets with the fans and another one without, but I have my team and they supported me. I dedicate the win to the fans which game me great energy”, said Sonego.

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French Open Chief: Roger Federer Would have Won Multiple French Open Titles If It Wasn’t For Nadal

Guy Forget also predicts how far the 39-year-old could go in the draw this year.

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The decision by Roger Federer to play at the French Open is the most logical step ahead of Wimbledon, according to tournament director Guy Forget.

 

The 20-time Grand Slam champion hasn’t played a competitive match on the surface since June 2019. Last year he missed most the season due to a right knee injury which required two surgical procedures, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. So far this year he has only played in one tournament which was at the Qatar Open where he reached the semi-finals.

Federer will return to the court next week at the Geneva Open in his native Switzerland. It is the only event he will play before heading to Roland Garros. An event he had only played in once out of the past five editions. Forget, who is a former top 10 player himself, believes the match play is exactly what Federer needs.

“That Roger comes to play Roland Garros seems logical to me. This will allow him to play, and especially to test himself. Clay is a surface that requires you to be precise in your movements. The better Federer is at Roland Garros, the better he will be at Wimbledon,” he told reporters earlier this week.

The Swiss Maestro has only won the French Open once in his career which was back in 2009. Although he has reached the final on four other occasions. It was at the 1999 French Open where he made his main draw debut in a major at the age of 17. Overall, 11 out of Federer’s 103 ATP titles have been won on the clay.

However, Forget believes Federer would have won many more French Open titles if it wasn’t for the formidable Rafael Nadal. A player who has won more ATP trophies on the dirt than any other player in history, including 13 at the French Open alone.

“If Rafael Nadal hadn’t existed Federer would have had at least 5 or 6 titles at Roland, I’m sure of that.” Forget commented.
“Regarding this edition, I think it can happen that he could go into the second week.” He added.

Federer has lost to Nadal in all six of their meetings at the French Open – four times in the final and twice in the semi-finals. He trails their overall head-to-head 16-24.

The French Open will get underway on May 30th.

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