Fixture: (2) Naomi Osaka vs Jessica Pegula
Date: 12 May 2021
Tournament: Internazionali BNL d'italia 2021
Round: Second round (Round of 32)
Venue: Rome, Italy
Category: WTA 1000
Surface: Red clay
Prize money: $1,835,490
Match timing: Approx. 12 pm local time, 3.30 pm IST
Live telecast: USA - Tennis Channel | UK - Amazon Prime Video
Naomi Osaka vs Jessica Pegula preview
For Osaka, who won her fourth Grand Slam title at the Australian Open earlier this year, clay remains a mighty challenge. Her first tournament on dirt this year - the Madrid Open last week - yielded just a solitary win; after beating Misaki Doi in the first round, Osaka went down to Karolina Muchova in in the second.
The World No. 2 will be eager to shake off that loss and get some wins under her belt before heading to Roland Garros later this month. She now comes up against Jessica Pegula who, much like Osaka, doesn't have a great claycourt record.
Pegula, in fact, has never managed to go beyond the first round at the French Open. That said, the American did oust a seasoned claycourter - Daria Kasatkina - in her first-round match on Monday.
Pegula registered an impressive 7-5, 6-3 win over the Russian, and would be hoping to bring that momentum into her face-off with Osaka.
Naomi Osaka vs Jessica Pegula head-to-head
Naomi Osaka leads Jessica Pegula 1-0 in the head-to-head. The Japanese bagged a 6-3, 7-6(5) win in their only encounter so far, which took place at the China Open in 2019.
Naomi Osaka vs Jessica Pegula prediction
Naomi Osaka's claycourt struggles are partly down to the fact that she can't generate the same easy power off the surface as she does on hardcourts. Her movement has also been a major issue, and she has admitted several times in the past that playing on clay is mentally taxing for her.
But Osaka is a fast learner, and she seems to be getting the hang of constructing points intelligently in the longer baseline rallies. Claycourt tennis will likely never come easily to her, but the 23-year-old has enough talent to be able to notch up a few good results when playing confidently.
Rome could give her exactly that opportunity. Jessica Pegula isn't comfortable on clay either, and with a serve that can be wobbly at times, the American might well present a few chances to Osaka.
Against Kasatkina in the first round at Rome, Pegula got a paltry 53.8% of her first serves in. If she doesn't improve those numbers, Osaka will pounce on her second serves with her powerful returns.
For Pegula to have a chance in this match, she needs to move the Japanese around the court and try to eke out errors from her racket. But to be able to do that consistently, she needs the support of her serve; the moment she falters on that shot, the match is likely to tilt towards Osaka.
Prediction: Naomi Osaka to win in three sets.