By Ros Satar at the Nature Valley Classic, Birmingham

  • After her best clay court season, can Naomi Osaka translate that on to grass?
  • What life looked like after the French Open for the World No. 1
BIRMINGHAM, UK – World No. 1 Naomi Osaka has never advanced past the second round at Birmingham, but after her most successful year on clay, can she translate that to the grass?

 

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Naomi Osaka after her first round win at the Nature Valley Classic, Birmingham 2019

Naomi Osaka of Japan talks to the media after winning her first-round match at the 2019 Nature Valley Classic WTA Premier tennis tournament

Still quirky in press but with perhaps a modicum more of confidence than the previous year, Naomi Osaka did her pre-match tournament press with the same hints of shyness we have always seen but could this be the year she makes more of a mark on the green stuff.

With two retirements here in just the three years she has competed, there is a bit to prove, on a surface that she freely admits challenges her, much in the way that she seemed to have a bit of a block over clay.

She said: “You know grass, I’m not really that comfortable with it. And it’s always the first tournament that’s the hardest. So, yeah, I have only practiced twice on grass because it was raining a lot. So, yeah, I guess I’m feeling as good as I can.

“It’s just really different to everything that I have ever played on because at least on clay… It’s similar to green clay which I kind of grew up playing, but grass, I have never, like, as a little kid, I have never played on grass so…”

The grass court season being so short, means that your final memory of last season will be the last match you lost, and last year there was a lot of anticipation that her third round clash with eventual champion Angelique Kerber was going to be a corker of a match – but it was not to be.

“It’s funny, whenever I come to grass I can only like remember the last match I played which is always Wimbledon and last year I played against Kerber and she kind of crushed me (smiling). So that is the thing that I remember the most.

“So I’m going to try and think about that match of course, but think about everything that I did, like sort of improved during the year.”

Osaka admitted that the pressure of getting a third straight slam had affected her in Paris, after battling past Maria Sakkari in her opening round.

“I think it kind of showed because I was kind of stressed out the entire time (smiling). So, for me, now, I’m just kind of having fun. I’m enjoying it. And I know that if I play well, then I’ll be No. 1. But you kind of have to deserve the spot that you’re in and if I lose in the first round, I don’t deserve to be No. 1. And that’s sort of what comes with the territory so I’m kind of chilling right now. I’m not trying to keep that in my mind.”

She will face another battle against Yulia Putintseva in the second round, to be played on Thursday.

 

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