Naomi Osaka looks to Rafael Nadal for inspiration for clay court reinvention

Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka says that she is hoping to reinvent her clay court game to break new ground on the surface.

Osaka has fallen into a pattern of her form dropping off through the clay and grass court seasons but the 24-year-old wants to change that.

The Japanese No 1 has only reached the final in hard court events at WTA Tour level and hasn’t made it past the third round at the French Open.

Osaka admitted that she will be taking some inspiration from Rafael Nadal when she lines up in Madrid this week to kick off her clay season.

“I changed a couple of things, I think you guys will be able to tell when I play, I don’t want to spoil the surprise,” Osaka told reporters at Media Day in Madrid.

“I would say I did change a couple of things to suit myself more for clay.

“I’m trying to embrace my mistakes compared to the previous years as well, so I’m not that hard on myself. If I make a mistake or if I don’t move up to the ball fast enough – because I find on clay you actually have to move much more – but if I do stuff like that I just tell myself not to be mad. I’m still a student so I should try to keep learning.

“I think I stole one of the things that [Rafael Nadal] did and I’ve been practicing it recently,” Osaka said.

“It’ll either go really good or really bad. There’s like no in between. But I think as I’ve been doing it, it’s been going pretty well.”

Osaka is hoping to get some insights into doing well on clay by watching the best players up close in Madrid.

She added: “Honestly I’ve been wanting to watch the really good clay-court players practice because I feel like I’m the type of person that learns really fast if I see it up close, and honestly it’s a bit of a waste to have all these really good professional tennis players and not watch them. I’ve kind of wanted to see Alcaraz, so it’d be cool to watch everyone practice.”

Osaka says that while she has practised hitting left-handed forehands, she won’t be looking to emulate Nadal in that fashion on court this week.

“I’ve actually been warming up kind of left-handed but I don’t think that’s a skill that’s going to show itself anytime soon. It’s just like for technical reasons. If I hit left-handed forehands, it’s easier to hit a backhand if that makes sense.

“I know that every kid growing up playing tennis in the world has pretended to be Nadal at least once.”