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Woodbridge: Osaka’s Rouen entry “one of her most important career decisions”

  • Matt Trollope

When Naomi Osaka announced her comeback plans in September, she revealed she would contest “definitely way more tournaments than I used to play”.

So far, the former world No.1 has remained true to her word.

Osaka will this week play the WTA clay-court event in Rouen, France, just the second 250-level tournament she has entered in the past six years. It’s the smallest clay-court tournament she has played since Strasbourg in May 2017.

It’s her seventh tournament already of 2024, a season she began unranked before working her way back into the top 200. She has won seven of her 13 matches so far.

Not since 2018 has Osaka played seven tournaments in a season by April.

Naomi Osaka celebrates her most recent win over Elina Svitolina at the Miami Open, one of two top-20 victories she has notched so far in 2024. [Getty Images]

Australian legend Todd Woodbridge is encouraged by what he has seen from Osaka in her return to the sport.

“I think that this is actually one of the most important decisions that she's made in her career, because it means that she effectively is willing to work and do anything to get herself back to the top of the game,” Woodbridge observed.

"This is an indicator for me that Naomi is deadly serious about winning more majors, because this is a commitment. She has committed to legitimately doing it (her comeback) properly.

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"I would look at what she's about to do as what Andre Agassi did at a point in his career, when he went back and played Challengers. Andre had the humility to go back, and he started to win, and when you hear him talk about it, he kind of had to strip himself bare and look at himself in the mirror.

“I feel that this is that moment for Naomi.”

It’s all the more notable given the surface, one on which Osaka has comparatively struggled.

She won her four major titles at the Australian and US Opens but has never progressed beyond the third round at Roland Garros. She finished a season with a positive win-loss record on clay just twice and played only eight clay-court matches since the beginning of 2020.

Woodbridge feels the decision to drop down to 250-level on clay – rather than enter the concurrent 500-level tournament in Stuttgart, with its stacked field – could have potential benefits.

"It's a distinct decision to win matches. It's too hard to walk out after a long time away from the game and just explode on the tour and win major tournaments. You need to get match play. You need to feel that you've done the work, that you deserve it,” he said.

"I think it's good that she's doing this on clay. Because you've got to hit more balls, you've got to be a little bit more patient. I think it's good for her level of fitness and match-fitness.

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“When we go back and look at her history, she avoided some of this type of tournament play early on when she could have been playing it. And I think if she's committing to this, she'll commit properly to a grass-court season.

“Grass was not something she ever looked all that comfortable on, but she's making that decision to go, OK, I'm willing to feel uncomfortable, I'm willing to put myself in this position.

“This is actually about becoming a bit more of a complete player.”


(Win-loss records in tour-level main draws)










































Osaka’s opener in Rouen is a tricky one.

The 26-year-old has drawn Martina Trevisan, the 2022 Roland Garros semifinalist who also progressed to the quarterfinals in 2020.

But Woodbridge said it poses an even trickier test for Trevisan, and believes success on clay for Osaka is within reach.

“I see her, with building confidence, being a threat on clay,” Woodbridge said.

“Look at Maria Sharapova – she found a way win (on clay). Her movement on clay was previously not great ... and that's what Osaka will be working on trying to do, is to get that clay-court movement.

Naomi Osaka's last win on clay came in 2022 in Madrid (pictured) over Anastasia Potapova. She last played on clay at Roland Garros in 2022. [Getty Images]

“If there is a player who can turn up and play against, let's say, the best clay-courter in the world at the moment, which is Iga Swiatek, to beat Iga you've got to take time away from her on the clay, so she can't spin you and hit you off into the corners.

“Naomi can do that; when she is on, she is that type of player.

"I think now she's playing on her terms, in a really positive way, where she can hopefully be enjoying the experience as opposed to what she went through (earlier).”