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Naomi Osaka sets sights on French Open glory

Naomi Osaka sets sights on French Open glory
© Reuters
Osaka had never reached the quarter-finals of a tour-level event on clay prior to this year.

Naomi Osaka is not letting her relative inexperience on clay get in the way of her ambition to continue her winning grand slam run.

The 21-year-old is the top seed at a grand slam for the first time having held onto the world number one spot since winning her second consecutive major title in Australia in January.

Osaka has not won a title since but, after a difficult couple of months where she split from coach Sascha Bajin and struggled with the pressure of the world number one ranking, she has been in decent form on clay.

The Japanese star had never reached the quarter-finals of a tour-level event on clay prior to Stuttgart in April, where she made the last four, and she was also a quarter-finalist in Madrid and Rome.

She had to pull out of the latter prior to a clash with Kiki Bertens, one of the favourites for the Roland Garros title, because of a hand injury, which she does not believe will affect her in Paris.

And, despite never having previously been beyond the third round here, Osaka is setting her sights sky high.

She said: "In Australia, the goal was to win. That was what I was waking up every day thinking. The walk through the tunnel, you see the two trophies. I would tap that on the woman's trophy side.

"I called my mum in the second round. I was, like, 'Do you want to come to Australia because I'm going to win this tournament?'

"I'm trying to emulate the same mindset. I don't want to be here thinking I want to get to the quarters. Of course I have never been that far here before, but my end goal is to win.

"I have always been a believer of you have to say it for it to come true and you have to believe it with all of your heart, because if even one per cent of you doesn't believe it, then there is a chance that it won't come true."

Naomi Osaka had to pull out of the recent Italian Open in Rome with a hand injury
Naomi Osaka had to pull out of the recent Italian Open in Rome with a hand injury (Gregorio Borgia/AP).

Osaka admitted in Australia that she was already thinking about completing the 'Naomi Slam' by holding all four slam titles at once.

Given her game style, the French appears the most difficult of the four, but Osaka said: "I definitely feel like I should be an all-court player.

"It's been a bit of a ride trying to figure out how to play better on clay throughout these years, but I think this year I have been playing well. So I'm really excited to see what happens here."

Osaka will open her campaign against Slovak Anna Karolina Schmeidlova, with a tricky route set to pit her against either Victoria Azarenka or former champion Jelena Ostapenko in round two.

Defending champion Simona Halep is all smiles as she is reunited with the French Open trophy
Defending champion Simona Halep is all smiles as she is reunited with the French Open trophy (Michel Euler/AP).

Defending champion Simona Halep, meanwhile, is the third seed this time and takes on Australian Ajla Tomljanovic in the opening round.

Halep won an overdue first slam title here 12 months ago having lost three times in previous finals, defeating Sloane Stephens in three sets.

The Romanian had a smile as wide as the Seine as she was reunited with the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen at Thursday's draw, and, talking on Friday, she said: "I am too happy to be in this position, I have to admit this.

"But it's nothing bad. I will try to do the things like a kid, enjoying the time."

Halep is the favourite to retain her title, although the women's field is once again very open – the Romanian put the number of genuine contenders at around 10.

"Mentally, I am pretty relaxed," she added. "I know it's a little bit of pressure, because I'm a defending champion, but it's the first time it happens.

"I just want to take the positive and to be in this position I think is the best thing. I will try just to give my best and to see if I'm able to do it again."


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