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By Chris Oddo | Thursday May 16, 2019

Naomi Osaka has gone a long way to answer questions about her potential on the clay in 2019. With a 7-1 record on the red stuff in 2019, a semi-final in Stuttgart, and now back-to-back quarter-finals in Madrid and Rome, it’s starting to feel like the World No.1 is destined to be a true Roland Garros contender in the not too distant future.

But can she be a contender in a few weeks’ time?

After coming through double duty on Thursday in Rome with two straight-set victories, Osaka will come face-to-face with last week’s Madrid champion Kiki Bertens, a woman who is highly regarded as a clay-court juggernaut that is thought of as a future champion in Paris, potentially even this year.

It ought to be the perfect test for the 21-year-old, especially if Bertens has anything left in the tank after reeling off eight consecutive wins in the last week and a half, including three grueling three-setters on Thursday.

If the Dutchwoman's press conference is any indication, she may not be at 100 percent:

If Bertens can find the energy and play to her potential on Friday, Osaka will be looking at her biggest clay-court test of the season and one of the biggest of her career.

The World No.1 doesn’t have the highest of expectations on the clay, but she’s been adamant about her desire to prove herself as a multi-surface threat.

“I feel pretty good,” said Osaka. “I’ve never done this well on clay and I’m obviously looking to progress more and as the years go by I’ll be more comfortable on it, same with grass, but for now I’m sort of taking it one day at a time.”

Osaka has shown an ability to make giant strides this season, and it makes sense. She is, after all, brimming with confidence after winning the last two majors and climbing to the No.1 ranking. She hasn’t shied away from embracing this part of the season, and she looks much more comfortable moving and hitting on the surface than she ever has before.

That's a testament to her burning desire to improve every facet of her game and also her predeliction for being a quick study. This is a player, after all, that is fairly new to the tour, let alone the Grand Slam game, and yet at 21-years-old she's already built up a Hall of Fame worthy body of results.

“Instead of complaining about it I’m trying to figure out how to adapt to it,” Osaka said of the clay. “Because this is like an inevitable part of the season. This is clay season, I can’t just skip this entire swing—and I also feel like I want to be a player that’s great on all surfaces, and I think one of the biggest steps is of course starting to do well on clay and learning how to adapt.”

So far so good for the World No.1. She learned today that she’ll be the top seed at Roland Garros when the draw comes out next week. It’s just another step in her development, but Osaka recognizes that to stay at No.1 she’ll have to keep on finding ways to raise the sports’ biggest trophies.

“I came to No.1 by winning a Grand Slam so obviously I need to win stuff to stay there. … I have to think about winning tournaments,” she said. “[Staying No.1] definitely was a very big goal of mine, but for now I’m just trying to take it one match at a time.”

Not only has Osaka never won a title on clay, she’s never even played a semi-final at the WTA level on the surface (she pulled out of the Stuttgart semi-final this spring with an ab strain). She’s also 0-6 vs. the Top 20 on clay.

But Osaka has already done a lot to change the narrative around her clay game in the last month and a half.

On Friday in Rome, she may just change it even more.


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