Earlier this year and for the fourth consecutive year Naomi Osaka has won a Grand Slam, all of which have been on the hard courts in either Melbourne or New York. The world number two is yet to crack the clay in her career.
Before this week in Madrid during her career she has picked up just 11 wins across Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros in 9 events losing 9 as well.
Madrid was always going to be a test leading up to Roland Garros in a few weeks and with a stacked draw in Madrid flooded with top players there was always going to be a test.
The first big test was in the form of Karolina Muchova. Throughout the first set the Czech was pretty composed and had everything working nicely from the baseline. Extended rallies didn’t test the 24 year old much and even when she was pushed to defend Osaka just couldn’t gain advantage.
There did seem to be hesitation in the way Naomi was hitting the ball but importantly moving to the ball and sliding on the clay. The break of serve felt inevitable and it came, the set almost followed immediately but the world number two saved a set point before a near on perfect hold of serve from Muchova who continued to pick off her groundstrokes down the line leaving Osaka stranded.
The themes continued for Osaka and credit to Muchova for that, everything Naomi sent out was being sent back with interest and a bigger picture in mind. The way Muchova was returning down the line made Osaka uncomfortable, her lack of movement was costly and lacked guidance in what she was trying to do.
Muchova orchestrated another early break of serve and it began to feel like a long way back for Naomi down 4-6 1-3.
Just as it looked like turning into a short morning for Osaka there was some hope, her best return game and a look at break point and a big forehand from the centre of the court and really pushing Muchova side to side levelled up at 3-3.
All of a sudden it felt like we were watching a new player out there, 1-3 down to 5-3 up. The groundstrokes were cleaner from the second seed and you could sense some nerves in Muchova’s serve which did drop but Osaka certainly found a higher gear when she needed it.
Having won 5 of the first 14 games and trailed 4-6 1-3, it was a set a piece after 5 games on the bounce to win it 6-3, were memories of Cincinnati last year sneaking in for Muchova who led the 23 year old that time and lost.
Was it a blip from Muchova or the start of a comeback from Osaka?
Bizarrely, we were back where we started in the second set, Muchova up 3-1 and looking to hold serve for a 4-1 lead and put some daylight between herself and Naomi Osaka.
The reset from Muchova was exceptional as she found her level once again and continued to find the angles pulling the world number two around the back of the court and at the third time of asking broke Osaka to lead 5-1!
There were going to be no nerves as on her debut in Madrid the Czech pulled off a big win against Naomi Osaka in three sets and her third top ten win of the year having beaten Pliskova and Barty in Melbourne.