Osaka — Hand to be healed by French Open start


World No. 1 Naomi Osaka says she expects her hand to be 100 percent healed when she begins her quest for a third consecutive Grand Slam title at the French Open on Sunday.

The 21-year-old Japanese player, who won her first Slam at the US Open in September and backed it up by winning the Australian Open in January, pulled out of the Italian Open just over a week ago after she woke up and was unable to move her thumb before her quarterfinal.

But a few days off and some treatment seem to have done the trick. Osaka pronounced herself ready to go as she tries to win her first French Open title.

“My hand is better now,” a relaxed Osaka said at her pre-tournament news conference Friday. “I mean, it gets better every day, so hopefully by the time that I play my match, it’s 100 percent. And I practiced for the past two days, so it’s going well.”

Osaka will be playing at the French Open for only the fourth time. Although she has yet to make it beyond the third round, she is improving on clay consistently, reaching the semifinals in Stuttgart and the quarters in Madrid and Rome before her hand injury.

At her best on hard courts, Osaka said she was learning how to adapt her game to clay, a process helped by a recent trip to the Rafael Nadal Academy in Spain and a meeting with Nadal.

“I feel like I should be an all-court player,” Osaka said. “Honestly, 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 was handed a tough path in Thursday night’s draw. After beginning against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia, she could play former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka or former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the second round. Her route also could include Greece’s Maria Sakkari in Round 3, Madison Keys in the round of 16, Serena Williams in the quarterfinals and defending champion Simona Halep in the semifinals.

Her confidence level may not be as high as it was in Australia, where she said she really felt she was going to win the title, but Osaka believes she can perform well again and aims to hit the ground running.

“At the US Open … I just wanted to play well,” she said. “Maybe get to the quarters, you know. Just have a good time. But then I ended up winning. In Australia, the goal was to win. That’s what I was waking up every day thinking.

“For me here, 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.”

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