World No. 2 Naomi Osaka recently spoke to the media ahead of her 2021 Madrid Open campaign. Osaka acknowledged that she hasn't played any claycourt tennis for the last two years, but claimed that she has been striking the ball well in practice of late.
Naomi Osaka is seeded second at the Madrid Open, and has been drawn to face a qualifier in her first-round fixture.
"I think I'm hitting the ball pretty well," Osaka said. "I can only hope that for now that's good enough."
The last time Naomi Osaka played on clay was at the 2019 French Open. Osaka pulled out of last year's Roland Garros due to travel concerns, and her schedule since the tour restart has comprised solely of hardcourt events.
"At the end of the day, I haven't played a clay tournament in two years," Osaka continued. "Haven't touched clay in two years either.”
Naomi Osaka went on to assert that she performs better when she doesn't add any undue pressure on herself to succeed. But at the same time, Osaka admitted that it is difficult for her to contain her zealous nature.
"I do better when I don't stress myself out and tell myself that I have to win," Osaka explained. "But it's really hard to fight that feeling when you really want something."
How has Naomi Osaka fared at the Madrid Open in the past?
Naomi Osaka has taken part in the Madrid Open main draw twice - in 2018 and 2019. She did enter the qualifying draw in 2016 too, but was unable to advance.
The then 19-year-old Osaka - ranked 104th in the world - overcame Zheng Saisai in the first round of qualifying at Madrid. But she had to retire midway through her second-round match against Alison Riske, after having lost the first set.
Naomi Osaka returned to Madrid in 2018, this time making the main draw by virtue of her WTA ranking of 21. Osaka, however, lost in the very first round to Zhang Shuai.
The Japanese drastically improved her performance the following year, as she put together a quarterfinal run in the Spanish capital. Osaka defeated Dominika Cibulkova, Sara Sorribes Tormo and Aliaksandra Sasnovich on her way to the last eight.
Naomi Osaka locked horns with Belinda Bencic in the quarterfinals, where she led by a set but eventually fell short.