Osaka ‘dodges bullet’ in Stuttgart as rival Halep pulls out - GulfToday

Osaka ‘dodges bullet’ in Stuttgart as rival Halep pulls out


Japan’s Naomi Osaka addresses a press conference at the WTA Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart on Tuesday. Agence France-Presse

World number one Naomi Osaka said Tuesday she had “dodged a bullet” after Simona Halep, her main pursuer in the WTA rankings, pulled out of this week’s tournament in Stuttgart.

Japanese rising star Osaka, 21, launches her clay season in Stuttgart this week, and her hopes of holding on to her spot at the top of the rankings were given a boost when world number two Halep withdrew with a hip injury earlier Tuesday.

“She was getting really close,” said Osaka, who is less than 200 points ahead of Halep in the WTA rankings. “I feel like I dodged a bullet there.”

Osaka said that winning was not everything in Stuttgart, where she last played as a qualifier in 2017.

“I don’t want to overhype myself and say, ‘I will win the tournament’,” she insisted.

“I just want to have fun and experience the German crowd, because last time I was here, I was kind of a nobody.”

She is definitely no longer a ‘nobody’, having won back-to-back Grand Slam titles in the United States and Australia since September.

However, she admitted finding it difficult to adjust to her newfound global fame.

“It is something that happened really quickly. In the beginning it was tough for me, because I put a lot of pressure on myself,” she said.

“I feel like there is certain things, I should be doing, that I am not doing right now.”

Osaka has not won a title since her Australian Open triumph in January, suffering early exits at three recent WTA tournaments.

She was reluctant to speak about her split with her German coach Sascha Bajin earlier this year.

“I feel like I get in trouble for answering questions like this. There were irreconcilable differences,” she said.

Reigning Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber, meanwhile, has recovered from illness in time to launch her clay season on home soil as she eyes a career Grand Slam in Paris this year.

Kerber has won every major except the French Open since 2016, but she has never got past the quarter-finals at Roland Garros.

“You know clay and me, you know the story,” she told reporters with a smile on Monday.

“It’s a tough challenge (to win all four Grand Slam tournaments), but I will not put too much pressure on my side.”

Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal said on Monday he won’t waste time dwelling on his weekend Monte Carlo semi-final loss but instead will concentrate on bouncing back at the Barcelona Open.

“What has happened has happened, whatever the reasons are,” the 11-time Barcelona champion said after a promotional appearance at a mini-tennis event in the Catalan capital.

“I don’t know the future, but I will go back to work. The job is to find myself,” Nadal said.

The 17-time Grand Slam winner, who returned at Monte Carlo after a knee injury, put a positive spin on his Saturday setback against eventual tournament winner Fabio Fognini. “Monte Carlo was a step forward compared to where I was a week earlier,” Nadal said.

He was joined at a mini-tennis court set up at an ornate Barcelona classical concert hall by two-time tournament champion Kei Nishikori. The Spaniard will open his title defence on Wednesday against Argentine Leo Mayer, a first-round winner over Marius Copil 6-3, 6-7 (3/7), 7-5. Nadal called his first light hit-out since Saturday’s loss “normal.”

“It’s the first day of practice in a different place. I did what I had to do,” he said. He again labelled his defeat to Fognini “one of the worst matches on clay.”

Agence France-Presse

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