‘Humble’ Naomi Osaka claims milestone clay win as she eyes another rankings boost

Shahida Jacobs
Naomi Osaka backhand
Naomi Osaka (JPN) plays a shot during her tennis match

Naomi Osaka admits she still feels like a “baby giraffe” on the red dirt after claiming her first-ever clay-court win over a player ranked in the top 20.

Four-time Grand Slam winner Osaka is the first to admit that she still has a lot to learn on the surface as her win-loss career record ahead of the Italian Open was 21–17 (55%), but that moved to 23-17 on Thursday as she followed up her first-round win over Clara Burel with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over world No 20 Marta Kostyuk.

The win over Burel was Osaka’s first on clay this year while she has now notched up consecutive victories on the red dirt for the first time since 2019.

“I’m going into this match knowing that she has way more experience than me on clay,” the former world No 1 said. “I feel like I’m still a baby giraffe, like I’m trying to learn my steps.

“I’m just extremely humble. I want to learn from the match I played today and hopefully apply that.”

Osaka started the WTA 1000 tournament at No 173 in the WTA Rankings – already a massive leap from the No 833 at the start of the year after missing the 2023 season to give birth to her daughter Shai – and her back-to-back wins have seen her climb to a provisional No 148.

An extended run in Rome as well as at Roland Garros could see her crack the top 100 again.

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Osaka, though, is learning from the likes of Rafael Nadal, Carlos Alcaraz and Andrey Rublev and she hopes her hard work will eventually pay off.

“Honestly, I did a really solid block of just focusing on what I want my clay court tennis to look like,” she revealed. “I watched some videos. I watched Rafa. I watched Alcaraz. I watched Rublev actually which is very inspiring because he’s smacking the ball.

“I kind of thought to myself, like, I don’t want to have regrets when I leave the court.”

She added: “Sometimes I think that Ostapenko won French Open, so maybe I should just stick to my guns. To be honest, I don’t really try to bang the ball. That’s, like, just what happens.

“I think for me, I just want to put more spin on it while rotating it a lot more. I think when I’m finally able to achieve that, it will obviously be quite heavy, so I [think] that will be my clay court tennis.”