Studious Naomi Osaka picking up Rafael Nadal tips and praise for superhero Iga Swiatek – Madrid Diary
As some of the world’s best players prepare to take to the court in Madrid Reem Abulleil reports from the media day, hearing from former world number one Naomi Osaka amongst others, who talked about trying to pick up tips from Rafael Nadal when it comes to clay and what Pokemon she would compare herself to.
MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Naomi Osaka of Japan looks on during the Media Day of WTA during the Mutua Madrid Open 2022 celebrated at La Caja Magica on April 27, 2022, in Madrid, Spain. (Photo By Oscar J. Barroso/Europa Press via Getty Images)
It’s no secret that Naomi Osaka’s results on hard courts are superior to her results on other surfaces but the former world No.1 has a plan to up her game on clay this campaign and it involves a secret tip she picked up from none other than the ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal.
In the build-up to this week’s Madrid Open, Osaka spent some time training on the red dirt in Mallorca and is keen to debut some new parts of her game when she kicks off her clay-court season in the Spanish capital.
In Miami earlier this month, Osaka said she will be watching “a lot of Nadal videos to see how he moves” on clay, and it seems the Japanese star is ready to showcase some new tricks after doing her homework and closely studying the 13-time Roland Garros champion.
“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. I would say I did change a couple of things to suit myself more for clay,” Osaka said on Wednesday.
“Yes, I think I stole one of the things that he did and I’ve been practicing it recently,” she added, referring to Nadal.
“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, a four-time major winner, considers herself a student of the game and says she plans on utilising her time at tournaments by following player practices.
“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,” said the 24-year-old.
Naomi Osaka à Madrid en 2022
Image credit: Getty Images
“I’ve kind of wanted to see (Carlos) Alcaraz, so it’d be cool to watch everyone practice.”
One journalist joked that maybe Osaka will start playing left-handed like Nadal.
“Imagine?” she said with a laugh.
“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.”
Iga the superhero?
She may have pulled out of the Mutua Madrid Open citing a right shoulder injury but Iga Swiatek still dominated conversations on Media Day.
The world No.1, who has won four consecutive titles and is on a 23-match winning streak, has her competitors and peers in awe of what she’s been able to do over the past two months and has inspired some interesting responses from players when they were asked to describe what is special about Swiatek.
Maria Sakkari likened the 20-year-old Pole to the fictional character ‘Eleven’ on the supernatural TV series ‘Stranger Things’.
“You can tell she’s a very, very nice girl, she’s a very good person; you can tell from her eyes, and from her aura and everything,” said world No.5 Sakkari.
“I’m pretty sure she likes ‘Stranger Things’ right? I could tell she has that kind of, not superpower, but something different. Like the character ‘Eleven’. Maybe it’s the short hair as well. I don’t know, she has something.
“Obviously she’s been having great results since Doha and she deserves it. I’ve been telling you guys that she has been doing the right things. You don’t win four tournaments in a row if you don’t deserve it and it’s exciting.”
Asked what fictional character she would associate herself with, Sakkari was stumped for a while before saying: “A lot of people say I look like Daisy Ridley from Star Wars, because she has a bun as well.”
Osaka picked ‘Snorlax’ from ‘Pokemon’ as a character she could relate to before adding: “Or something that’s just like a big bear that’s like kind of sleeping the most of the time but then when it wakes up it’ll wake up but then it’ll go back to sleep.”
‘Magical Swiatek’ deserves to be here
Tunisian world No.10 Ons Jabeur joked that it is “annoying” having Swiatek dominate so much on tour at the moment, before setting the record straight and heaping praise on the former French Open champion.
“She deserves to be here, it didn’t happen just over a day. Whether we want it or not, she’s an inspiration to a lot of players, me included. I hope I can achieve that level because I don’t know what she’s doing right now but what she’s doing is right. I hope she can continue that way but not against me,” Jabeur added with a laugh.
Image credit: Getty Images
World No.2 Paula Badosa, a frequent practice partner of Swiatek’s, said the young Pole “has special hands; she has magic”.
Badosa continued: “From the middle she opens the court very easily. She moves amazing. So yeah, she has everything to be world No.1. She totally deserves it. And I'm even more happy, because she's a humble person and she's very normal. That's sometimes is tough to see. It's nice.”
Weighing in on Russians/Belarusians Wimbledon ban
After announcing she was withdrawing from the Madrid Open, Swiatek still came to press to talk to on-site journalists and fulfil her media commitments.
Already one of the first players to voice their support for Ukraine, Swiatek was asked to weigh in on recent news that Wimbledon has banned Russians and Belarusians from competing at SW19 this summer, and Rome potentially enforcing a similar suspension at the Italian Open next month.
Swiatek feels it would be better if all of tennis’ governing bodies were united when it came to such decisions, and admits she doesn’t know what the right course of action should be.
“The situation is getting like more and more chaotic, I would say,” said Swiatek. “But I feel like it would be nice to have all these bodies making the proper decision so that we're not going to have that kind of chaos.
“I feel like people are expecting us players to make the decision, but it's pretty hard for us to make one because we know these people. We know each other. We are spending so much time on tour that it feels like we're family. I would say I'm seeing more the other players than my sister when I'm back home. So for sure it's a tough situation.
“And that's why I think the actual people who are kind of responsible for making this decision, they should make one decision that is going to last. I don't know what decision is right, because honestly, I'm 20 and it's not like I'm saying that because I want to stay in a safe bubble. But honestly, I've never been involved in politics and it's not like I know everything. It's more like I still need to educate myself and I feel like I should educate myself a little bit more in that.
“So I can't tell what's the best decision, that's for sure. But making some moves that are going to help stop the war a little bit would be better.”
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