Why does Naomi Osaka struggle so much on clay?

Hamish Carton May 12, 2021
Why does Naomi Osaka struggle so much on clay?
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Naomi Osaka’s struggles on clay continued on Wednesday as she crashed out of the Italian Open in disappointing fashion.

The four-time Grand Slam champion crumbled badly against Jessica Pegula – going down 7-6 (2), 6-2 in Rome.

World number 31 Pegula has had a strong 2021 – but it is no understatement to say she would have stood little chance had the match taken place on a hard court.

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

But on clay, Osaka is a much diminished character.

The Japanese star now has a 1-2 win/loss record on the surface this year and will head into Roland Garros as a major underdog for the title.

Naomi Osaka’s clay problem may be mental

Osaka is yet to reach a final in her career on clay, and has never made it past the third round in Paris.

In the lead up to her bruising Rome defeat, she once again spoke about her uneasy relationship with the surface.

Osaka said: “I feel like there are things that I have improved, but the comfortability, I’m not sure if I should be telling you this, but I’m just not that comfortable on it still.

“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.” (Give Me Sport)

Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images

Osaka’s lack of confidence on clay is highlighted by her movement – which often looks laboured.

Her frustrations were clear to see on Wednesday as she uncharacteristically thrashed her racket off the ground late in the first set.

She knows she has the game and, most importantly, the mentality to be doing much better on both clay and grass.

She will still win many more majors in both New York and Melbourne, barring injuries.

But she must make inroads in Paris and London to truly be considered as one of the best when she hangs up her racket.

Thankfully, at 23, she has plenty of time to get things right.

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Hamish is an experienced Scottish football writer, having been a season ticket holder at Celtic Park for over a decade.