Naomi Osaka’s Clay Court Triumph Second Top 20 Win in Rome

Naomi Osaka, often nicknamed “Clayomi” for her prowess on clay courts, secured her second Top 20 win in Rome against Daria Kasatkina at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, advancing to the fourth round.

Osaka’s victory over the No. 10 seed marked a significant achievement, considering her previous challenges on clay surfaces.

Naomi Osaka’s Clay Court Triumph Second Top 20 Win in Rome

At the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Osaka defeated Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 6-3, but waved, saying, “I think I need more clay credentials for that.” Osaka defeated the No. 10 seed to make it two straight Top 20 victories on clay, and she advanced to the Foro Italico’s fourth round for the first time since 2019.

She stated, “I’m very grateful to be back,” following her victory against Porsche Tennis Grand Prix finalist Marta Kostyuk, which secured a matchup with No. 7 seed Zheng Qinwen in the Round of 16. “I know how much work it took to get here, so I’m really thankful to be healthy.”

In the five months after she resumed competition following the birth of her daughter Shai in 2023, Osaka has demonstrated strong tennis performance, but little was expected of the four-time Grand Slam champion on one of her least favorite surfaces.

The 26-year-old, self-described “baby giraffe,” even revealed that only two weeks prior, during a practice set at the Mutua Madrid Open, Kasatkina—a 2022 Roland Garros semifinalist—had demolished her.

She shyly admitted, “I remember her beating me like 6-0, or 6-1, if I’m being generous to myself,” at the press conference after the match.

We were warming up before the real practice session, and I was sticking by her side, I just remembered thinking. I had no idea how to play on clay when the match started for whatever reason. I was at a loss on how to organize the point.

For the first time since Madrid in 2019, Osaka has won three straight matches on clay in Rome thanks to a solid week in Mallorca that helped her acclimate to the clay swing.

She described using a more clay-friendly strategy—one that was inspired by none other than Rafael Nadal—as “definitely more mental.” I could do it every time. I’m getting a bit impatient. Naturally, I feel like I think of a moon ball when I hit a heavier ball. It wasn’t until I watched Rafael Nadal play that it truly dawned on me how much he accelerates when doing so, and that often a heavier ball is more challenging to hit than a flatter stroke.

Also Read: Coco Gauff’s Deep Admiration for Rafael Nadal From Intensity to Grace: Tennis Updates 2024

Osaka said that she has been consuming a lot of tennis content during her vacation, mentioning top players like Andrey Rublev and Carlos Alcaraz, who recently won the Madrid tournament with impressive performances.

“I’m willing to go above and beyond to achieve my goal of being where they are,” declared Osaka. “I’m not sure. I feel like I’m merely scrubbing my way back, hopefully, to where I believe I should be.

Zheng, a formidable opponent who made her significant breakthrough by making it to the 2024 Australian Open final at the beginning of the season, will be Osaka’s next opponent. Zheng, who had to retire from competition in Madrid due to a right leg injury, has recovered much stronger in Rome, defeating Linda Noskova on Saturday despite falling behind early. Osaka prevailed in three sets in their lone prior meeting, which took place in San Jose last summer.

However, that was Naomi. In her quest to advance to her second WTA 1000 quarterfinal of the year, how will Clayomi fare?

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