Naomi Osaka wants go easy on herself entering clay season

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MADRID — Former No. 1 Naomi Osaka enters the clay-court season with the goal of not being too hard on herself.

Osaka made the final in Miami last month and will be playing as a wild-card entry when the Madrid Open begins.

“I’m trying to embrace my mistakes compared to the previous years as well, so I’m not that hard on myself,” she said. “If I make a mistake or if I don’t move up to the ball fast enough – because I find on clay you actually have to move much more – but if I do stuff like that I just tell myself not to be mad.”

Osaka withdrew from the French Open last year and took a break from competition after saying she “suffered long bouts of depression” and experienced “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking to the media. The four-time Grand Slam champion has openly talked about working on her mental health since winning the 2018 U.S. Open over Serena Williams. She left last year’s U.S. Open in tears and was brought to tears again by a comment from a spectator at Indian Wells earlier this year.

“I’m still a student so I should try to keep learning,” she said ahead of her debut in Madrid.

Osaka said she hoped to learn from some of the clay-court specialists who are playing in Madrid, including Rafael Nadal and the red-hot Carlos Alcaraz.

“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,” the 24-year-old Japanese player said. “I’ve kind of wanted to see Alcaraz, so it’d be cool to watch everyone practice.”

Osaka said she “stole one of the things” that Nadal did and was practicing it, without elaborating.

“It’ll either go really good or really bad. There’s like no in between,” she said. “But I think as I’ve been doing it, it’s been going pretty well.”

Osaka took two weeks off after playing in Miami and said she “changed a couple of things” in her game to prepare for the clay season.

“I think you guys will be able to tell when I play. I don’t want to spoil the surprise,” she said. “I would say I did change a couple of things to suit myself more for clay.”

Osaka said she has set a goal of reaching the semifinals either in Madrid or in Rome.

“I’m trying to take it one tournament at a time,” she said. “Of course winning matches and leading up into the French, I want to get to the semis of either here or Rome, hopefully win. But I’m going to set a little goal first.”

Osaka’s first match in Madrid will be against a qualifier. If she wins, her next opponent will be either French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo, who beat Osaka on clay at the Billie Jean Cup in 2020.

Giron cruises in 3rd set, beats Rybakov at Dallas Open

2023 Australian Open - Day 1
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DALLAS – Marcos Giron advanced to the second round of the Dallas Open with a 6-4, 6-7 (1), 6-1 victory over Alex Rybakov on Tuesday.

The seventh-seeded Giron, who reached the semifinals of the inaugural event a year ago, responded quickly after failing to close out the second set, winning the first five games of the deciding set.

Rybakov broke his fellow American when Giron was serving for the match in the second set. Then Rybakov won the first six points of the second-set tiebreaker.

“I’m really happy with how I was able to reset in the third and just get back to the game plan from the beginning and elevate,” Giron said. “He played well and served well and kind of hung in there.”

Eighth-seeded Adrian Mannarino of France won the final five points of a first-set tiebreaker and the last four games of the second to beat American Steve Johnson 7-6 (6), 6-2.

J.J. Wolf, the No. 6 seed, had little trouble in a 6-3, 6-3 victory over fellow American Brandon Holt.

John Isner, the fifth seed and unofficial tournament host in his hometown event, played later Tuesday. Like Giron, Isner lost in the semifinals last year.

Sock wins at Dallas Open, set to face top-seeded Fritz

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DALLAS – Wild-card entry Jack Sock opened with a 7-6 (2), 4-6, 6-4 victory over Ilya Ivashka at the Dallas Open, setting up a second-round meeting with top-seeded fellow American Taylor Fritz.

Sock broke Ivashka’s serve in the final game to win the match. Ivashka fell behind 2-0 to start the final set but broke Sock to get back on serve.

Down a break early in the second set, Ivashka rallied to force the deciding set after Sock cruised in the first-set tiebreaker.

The eighth-ranked Fritz is back for the second Dallas Open after losing in the semifinals as the top seed in the inaugural edition of the indoor hard-court event last year. Defending champion Reilly Opelka isn’t in the field.