It has been 699 days, almost two years, since Naomi Osaka last stepped onto the clay in a singles competition. Although there was a hiatus, last year, when he attended the confrontation between Spain and Japan in the Federation Cup, with Cartagena as a framework. Then he received a more than considerable shaking from the Valencian Sara Sorribes, in a duel that the current two in the world closed with 50 unforced errors and that stopped for a few moments at the end, when impotence made him break into tears and the fans revived him with clapping hands.
From that June 1, Osaka’s (23-year-old) enmity with clay deepened and her detachment towards the surface became even more evident, considering that previously, of her own free will, she had already chained nine months without stepping on a terrain that produces rashes from the emotional point of view. For example, his four parades through Roland Garros, where he has never been able to overcome the barrier of the third round and where, he said after losing for the last time, he neither feels free nor has fun. Nor has he stood out in Madrid, falling in the first round in his debut (2018, against Suhai Zhang) and in the quarters (Belinda Bencic) the following year.
Now, then, the Japanese (7-5 and 6-2 to Misaki Doi, on her return to the Caja Mágica) faces a most harsh circumstance: the challenge of demonstrating and demonstrating that she can understand and master the peculiar codes Of the sand. His Achilles.
“The first days training here, in Madrid, I was quite angry because I am used to coming back and feeling the ball, instead of feeling that I have been disconnected for a long time,” she recounted this Friday, after a laborious start until she was awarded the first set and uneven before his compatriot. “Playing on land is very different, because you must adjust your feet and your movements, take into account the possible bad bounces of the ball … I must be calm and gain experience,” added the Japanese, who was not seen in the track since he fell a month ago in Miami, after receiving a donut (6-0) against the Greek Maria Sakkari.
Since then, work and prudence. In Madrid, he has only attended the strictly necessary commitments, no interviews. In a new media dimension since she won her fourth Grand Slam last February, in Australia, the athlete with the highest annual income – € 34.2 million, the all-time record for a female athlete, according to the magazine Forbes– is now focused on reversing its negative trend on land, which contrasts with its brilliant run on concrete. Born in Japan, she emigrated with her parents when she was three years old and is, after all, a product of the American school. That is, its habitat is the fast track.
“I have to play naturally, with my style. It is clear that I have to adapt, but if I practice a tougher tennis perhaps it would not be something at all good for me, “he insisted this Friday, on a day in which Sorribes had no options against Simona Halep (6-0 and 7-5) and in which both the oldest, Venus Williams (40 years; 6-2 and 6-4 with Jennifer Brady), and the youngest, Cori Gauff (17 years; 5-7, 6-3 and 6- 2 versus Karolina Pliskova). It was the day, also, in which Rafael Nadal began rallying on the training courts, where he coincided with his uncle Toni (coach of the Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime).
According to the draw carried out in the afternoon, the Spaniard will debut next Wednesday against Adrian Mannarino or Carlos Alcaraz. In a hypothetical route to the final, Nadal would avoid both Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tstisipas, on the other side of the table. Dominic Thiem, Andrey Rublev or Yannik Sinner could be some stones in the way.