ATP

Osaka hails Alcaraz influence on ATP Tour, studying Nadal's clay-court success for Madrid

By Sports Desk April 27, 2022

Naomi Osaka believes teen tennis star Carlos Alcaraz has rejuvenated excitement around the ATP Tour, while she labelled Rafael Nadal as an inspiration ahead of the Madrid Open.

Alcaraz needed just 67 minutes to defeat Spanish compatriot Pablo Carreno-Busta 6-3 6-2 at the Barcelona Open last Sunday, claiming his third title of the season after wins in Rio de Janeiro and Miami.

The 18-year-old has surged to a career-high ninth in the world rankings, Alcaraz becoming the youngest player to crack the top 10 since fellow Spaniard Nadal achieved that feat at the same age in 2005.

Coincidentally, Nadal also broke into the top 10 after success on the same day (April 25) at the Barcelona Open and the pair will next compete in Madrid in the ATP 1000 Masters event, which starts on Sunday.

Former women's world number one Osaka revealed she is keen to cast an eye over the duo in the Spanish capital, where she faces a qualifier in the first round, as she hailed the impact Alcaraz has had.

"I feel like he's genuinely made everyone excited about the ATP and I haven't seen that in a very long time," Madrid Open wildcard Osaka said of Alcaraz, who boasts an impressive 23-3 record in the 2022 season.

"I'm not even really thinking about his age, like every time someone brings up his age, I'm like, 'Oh wow, I forget, that's so cool'.

"I think just his game style, just how pumped he is, how I feel like I'm watching him learn with every tournament.

"I don't know what his ranking was last year here, but I've watched almost every tournament that he's played, the US Open when he played [Stefanos] Tsitsipas and just to see the growth I think is really exciting for everyone."

Osaka has won all four of her grand slam titles on hard courts, but the 24-year-old will now search for clay-court success in Madrid.

Japanese Osaka has spent time preparing in Majorca, where she has used 13-time French Open winner Nadal as an inspiration, given his expertise on clay courts.

"I think I stole one of the things that he did and I've been practising it recently," she said of Nadal, who holds the record for most men's grand slam titles with 21 major triumphs to his name.

"It'll either go really good or really bad. There's like no in between. But I think as I've been doing it, it's been going pretty well.

"Honestly I've been wanting to watch the really good clay-court players practice because I feel like I'm the type of person that learns really fast if I see it up close and honestly it's a bit of a waste to have all these really good professional tennis players and not watch them."

Osaka suffered a second-round exit at the Indian Wells Masters in March, impacted by abuse from a heckler in the crowd, but rebounded by making the final in Miami, where she lost to world number one Iga Swiatek.

However, Osaka is looking to use the experience at Indian Wells, where she was reduced to tears by a spectator reportedly shouting "Naomi, you suck", as a learning curve to develop.

"I feel like there are a lot of moments in my career that are like extremely sad for me at the time but I kind of later look back on it and I think to myself, 'Well that really made me grow as a person, and even though I really hated the experience, I'm glad it happened to me'," she added.

"For me, that's one of those moments. I wish it didn't happen, but also I'm glad that it did.

"I feel like it prepared me for a lot of things that may or may not happen, but it's kind of like one of those things you have in your back pocket as experience."

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