APRIL 21 - MAY 4, 2025

Osaka gets off to impressive start at the Caja Magica

Naomi Osaka is not letting her limited success on clay stop her from aiming high on the red dirt this season as she declared she “would like to win a tournament” on the surface that has caused her trouble in the past.

Back in Madrid for the first time since 2022, and the fifth time overall, Osaka impressed in her 6-4, 6-1 victory over Belgian lucky loser Greet Minnen, which was the Japanese star’s first on clay in two years.

The 26-year-old, who returned from maternity leave at the start of the season, has won all four of her Grand Slam titles on hard courts but is determined to find her footing on the red dirt, starting with a solid campaign at the Caja Magica this fortnight.

“I would like to win a tournament on clay, I would think it’s very ironic but also hilarious if my first tournament (win back from maternity leave) would be clay,” she told reporters on Wednesday after setting up a second-round meeting with No.15 seed Liudmila Samsonova.  

“For me, every tournament I play I want to win. I know that results so far haven’t shown that but I really think that something’s going to click eventually and when it does, I think I’ll be really good.

“But for right now, I’m just going to be as humble as I can. I’m happy to be in this tournament, I’m happy to be playing against the best players in the world and I learn from them every day.”

That positive attitude has been evident in Osaka’s demeanour so far in Madrid, where she has cut a relaxed figure despite her opening-round exit in Rouen last week.

Osaka jokingly used colourful language when describing her first match on clay since 2022, which was a straight-sets defeat to Martina Trevisan at the WTA 250 in France.

“Sorry. It felt very bad,” she added.

She feels much better about her win over Minnen on Wednesday in Madrid though, where she faced and saved just one break point and fired 19 winners including eight aces.

“I think I slid a couple of times to my forehand pretty well, so I was excited about that,” said the former world No.1.

“She was hitting really good drop shots but I think I got to a couple quite well. I think just movement-wise I’m feeling a lot more comfortable. I think shot-wise, I hit a couple of heavy balls. Hopefully I’m able to continue that.”

Osaka reflected on some of her best memories on clay and picked a 2019 win over Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo en route to the quarter-finals in Madrid as one of her favourites.

“I just thought it was a really good win because I know she’s kind of a clay-court player and she’s also Spanish, so I was happy with that,” she recalled.

Osaka hit the road two weeks ago, first to play Billie Jean King Cup in Japan before jetting off to Rouen for the start of her clay swing, and had to leave her daughter Shai back home in California.

She has been FaceTiming her every day and feels like she hasn’t seen her in “forever” but added: “Overall I think I’m doing pretty well. I set out with a goal, I really want to make the most of my time here of course and hopefully learn a lot from this season.”

While Osaka has made adjustments to her game since the start of her comeback, she wants to make sure she maintains the essence of her style, even on a unique surface like clay.

“I think there’s a basis of my game and I want to stick to that but also respect the court. That’s something that’s a work in progress for me,” she said.

“I’m watching a lot more matches on clay, I’m trying to do my homework as best as I can, so I’m hoping that by the time the French Open comes along I’ll be a lot better.”

Osaka’s clay hopes don’t just end with the French Open. The Japanese-Haitian sensation is eyeing the podium at the Olympics in Paris this summer, which will also be staged at the fabled grounds of Roland Garros.

“The Olympics feel so far away at this point but I would feel very excited to play them and I think it’s really cool that they’re going to be on clay and that’s something that I’ve always wanted to conquer. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a medal,” she concluded.