Japan’s Naomi Osaka described her clay-court prowess as a “work in progress” after she kicked off her Roland-Garros title bid with a 6-4, 7-6(4) win over Patricia Maria Tig of Romania on Sunday.
Osaka on clay - A work in progress
The four-time major champion made a promising start to her Roland-Garros campaign
The No.2 seed, who has yet to go past the third round in Paris in four attempts, dropped just four points on her first serve and fired 39 winners as she fended off the challenge of the Romanian under warm, blue skies in an early start on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
She has now won her last 15 consecutive matches at the majors, having lifted the trophy at last year's US Open and this year's Australian Open (she missed Roland-Garros 2020 through injury).
“I’d say it’s a work on progress,” Osaka said of the state of her clay-court game. “Hopefully the more I play the better it’ll get. If I play more matches, then hopefully I’ll get better [on the surface].”
All four of Osaka’s Grand Slam titles have come on hard courts.
Early losses in Madrid and Rome meant the Japanese arrived in Paris with doubts over her form but she seemed to enjoy the warmer conditions, the ball flying off her racquet with customary ease.
After saving a break point in her opening service game, Osaka began to find her feet on the clay, wrong-footing Tig regularly and using her power to great effect.
Nevertheless, it was not all plain sailing as Tig, who reached the third round at Roland-Garros last year, fought hard throughout.
Osaka led 4-1 and 5-2 in the opening set but her nervousness was there for everyone to see as she missed a routine forehand when trying to serve out the set, handing back the break.
A much better return game won her the first set but the second set was nip and tuck, with Tig digging deep to stay on serve and force the tiebreak.
Even in the breaker, Osaka was not quite as assured as she would like but a couple of Tig mistakes put her in charge, a big forehand set up a second match point and a simple backhand finished things off, much to her relief.
“I’m really glad that I won, it’s a very beautiful court,” Osaka told Fabrice Santoro during her on-court interview. “I’ve only played two matches here - one before the roof (was installed) and one right now. Hopefully I’ll keep it going.”
Tig was disappointed not to push the match to a third set but said there was no reason why Osaka could not do well at Roland-Garros this year.
“I don’t really know her results on clay but I think if she gets used to it, she can play just as well on clay as she does on hard courts,” Tig said. “For me, it’s just a matter of how used to the clay you are.
“I played a lot on clay when I was a kid, maybe Naomi played a lot on hard courts as a kid.”
It was the first time Tig had played someone ranked in the top 10 and the Romanian said she hoped to experience more matches on the big stage in future.
“I would like to play more matches against great players as I think that will help me,” she said.
Osaka’s reward for her victory will be a second-round meeting against another Romanian, Ana Bogdan, who eased past Italian lucky loser Elisabetta Cocciaretto.