PARIS, France - Naomi Osaka is a danger on clay when she exercises a little self-restraint and "doesn't go for too much", her coach Sascha Bajin said in an interview with wtatennis.com.
The Japanese player has had "a beautiful start to the season", including her first WTA title with a run in Indian Wells and then beating her childhood idol Serena Williams in the opening round in Miami. And, after making the transition from American hard courts to European clay, Osaka has continued to make an impact, emphatically defeating Victoria Azarenka in the first round in Rome 6-0, 6-3.
"If Naomi serves well, and doesn't go for too much, and stays within herself, she's a threat on any surface," asserted Bajin, who has previously worked with Williams, Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki. "My job is to help her do that and support her. It was a beautiful start to the season. It couldn't have gone much better. But Naomi's not satisfied. She's still trying to improve - and especially on clay, there's a lot that she can improve.
"So we're trying to work on certain things and to take it day by day and see how she feels. We've been working on her movement overall, and the way she hits the ball. We have to change that up a little from hard courts."
Since winning the Indian Wells tournament, Osaka has not let herself get carried away or lost any of her focus, according to Bajin.
"We've agreed to take it match by match. We don't look ahead. We don't take any opponents lightly just because she won a tournament," he explained. "I've told her that if she makes the right decisions day by day, the results will come her way. That's something she should focus on. She should focus on what she can control. I think she's doing great so far and everything else will come together."
Bajin noted that last year's French Open champion, Jelena Ostapenko, is not a typical clay-court player. "Ostapenko doesn't really hit a clay-court ball - she doesn't loop it high over the net," he remarked. "And she won the French Open. On the women's side, it's a lot more open than the men's tournament."
Ahead of this year's clay swing, Osaka and Bajin trained in his birth country of Croatia - and there were promising signs for the 20-year-old, who took Simona Halep to three sets in her Roland Garros debut in 2016.
"She beat me on clay in Croatia and now she says she kind of likes it," laughed Bajin. "We're not going to the French Open just to show up and go home in the quarters. I want her to go to every tournament to win it, and we take it one match at a time. We don't shy away from winning a tournament. She proved that in Indian Wells."