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Osaka frustrated at clay court ‘mental block’

Naomi Osaka conceded she found playing outside her comfort zone on clay frustrating as the world number two continues her warm-up for the French Open at the WTA tournament in Rome.

Osaka has never won a tour-level event on the red dirt while at the French Open, which starts on May 30, she is yet to make it past the third round.

The Japanese four-time Grand Slam champion was dumped out of the Madrid Open in the second round last week, having taken almost a month off following her quarter-final exit in Miami.

“I’m not sure if I should be telling you this, but I’m just not that comfortable on it (clay) still, and I’m not sure if it’s because I need to play longer on it or if I just haven’t grown up on it,” Osaka told a press conference in Rome on Sunday. 

Osaka has played just two matches on clay since the 2019 French Open having skipped last year’s Grand Slam because of injury.

“Mentally it’s a bit harder because you have to structure the points differently,” she continued. 

“There are bad bounces and stuff. I get quite frustrated. So, yeah, mentally I think it’s a bit more taxing.

“But I think as soon as I get that sort of block out of my mind, then I’ll be more open to the mistakes.

“Right now, I’m taking everything as a learning process, and I’m trying not to be so hard on myself.”

Osaka is in the same half of the draw as four-time Rome winner Serena Williams, who hasn’t played since losing to Osaka in the Australian Open semi-final, and defending champion Simona Halep of Romania.

Before then she opens in the second round against either Russia’s 37th-ranked Daria Kasatkina or American Jessica Pegula, the world number 33.

“Honestly, I feel like that’s the reason why I’m here for match prep,” said Osaka, whose best showing at the tournament was a quarter-final run in 2019. 

And she welcomed the extra week of warm-up before Roland Garros, even if it means less time at home before the Tokyo Olympics.

“In the beginning I was a bit sad because it means more time away from home. 

“But at the same time I feel like I need the extra time on clay, especially with my past results. Hopefully I do better here. 

“But I’m not really mad at, I guess, grinding on clay and practising here for a couple more weeks.”

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