Osaka wins on clay after two years

Antonio Arenas Mutua News, Women's Tennis

Naomi Osaka left no room for an upset on Friday in her first match at the Mutua Madrid Open. The Japanese player needed two sets to get past her compatriot Misaki Doi (7-5, 6-2) and progress to the second round after one hour and 27 minutes.

The Manolo Santana Stadium provided the stage for two players from the land of the rising sun. Despite the fact that the second seed was facing a qualifier, the clash was tight early on with both players inflicting damage.

Osaka needed 57 minutes to take a first set in which Doi found an early break (0-2). Although the four-time Grand Slam winner managed to go a break up in the seventh game (4-3), she still required two more service games to take a 1-0 lead.

The left-handed Yokohama native continued her solid form in the ‘qualies’ at the Madrid WTA 1000 to break back in the tenth game (5-5) and level the set. Osaka had to dig deep for a rebreak at the fourth time of asking before closing out the first act with an ace and a set to love (7-5).

A relieved WTA No. 2, whose aggressive tactics had produced mixed results (14 winners and 13 unforced errors), started the second set with a quick break, making the most of her momentum (2-0). Doi managed to hold serve in the third and fifth games (3- 2) but the current Australian Open champion then put her foot on the gas to string three games together, capping off her performance with a sixth ace (6-2).

Osaka, whose stats improved later in the game, increasing her winners to 26, will now face Karolina Muchova on the clay of the Spanish capital. The Czech player also enjoyed a victorious Friday, seeing off the Chinese Qiang Wang in two sets (6-1, 6-3).

A two-year wait

The Japanese player had not played a match on the red stuff since the 2019 French Open. Last season she skipped Roland Garros and the European swing that precedes it due to a hamstring injury. “I feel like I started playing better in the second set, so movement-wise I think it can only get better. Hopefully as I put in more hours on the court, it will just keep improving”, explained Osaka, asked about her form after a long absence from clay.

“The first two days that I was training this year with Wim I was very irritated, actually, just because of feeling the ball. But on clay I think it’s very different. You have to adjust your feet in a different way. The bad bounces are definitely really troubling. But I talked to Wim and he said that that’s normal and you just have to stay calm. So hopefully I get more experienced”, ended the ex-world No. 1.