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Monday July 04, 2022

Osaka returns to French Open with questions over form, fitness

By AFP
May 20, 2022

PARIS: Naomi Osaka returns to Roland Garros looking to banish the memories of her withdrawal 12 months ago, but hampered by concerns over her clay-court form and fitness.

The former world number one pulled out of last year’s French Open ahead of the second round, citing mental health issues.

She had been threatened with expulsion and fined by organisers over her refusal to attend press conferences.

Osaka then spent large parts of the remainder of the 2021 season off the court and has struggled this campaign with injury.

The Japanese star withdrew from last week’s Italian Open to rest an Achilles problem and try to regain full fitness for the Grand Slam tournament in Paris, where she will be unseeded at a major for the first time since the 2018 Australian Open.

The 24-year-old has slipped to 38th in the WTA rankings going into Sunday’s start of the French Open, but was as low as number 78 in March.

Osaka showed she could still compete for the biggest titles the following week, reaching the Miami Open final — her first on the WTA Tour since the 2021 Australian Open — before losing to world number one Iga Swiatek.

“Only a couple days ago I was celebrating getting back into the top 50 but I don’t take things like that for granted,” the four-time Grand Slam champion said after that defeat.

“I’m a bit more humble now about the opportunities I get. I can take a lot of positives from this.”

Osaka will fancy her chances of a deep run at Roland Garros for the first time in a wide-open women’s draw, with the exception of red-hot favourite Swiatek who is on a 28-match winning streak.

But she has plenty still to prove on clay, having never reached a Tour final on the surface or even made the second week of the French Open.

Osaka’s preparation this time around has been far from ideal and she has played only two matches on the red dirt this season.

She was visibly struggling with the Achilles injury in the second of those against unheralded Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo in Madrid, losing 6-3, 6-1.

“I feel like I couldn’t play the way that I wanted to play, like I was limited,” Osaka said.

When she withdrew from Roland Garros last year, Osaka said she had been suffering from “bouts of depression” since her breakthrough US Open triumph over Serena Williams in the controversial 2018 final.

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