Paul Annacone has urged Naomi Osaka to familiarize herself with "the nuances" of grass-court tennis if she is to give herself the best chance of winning Wimbledon this summer.
Annacone, who previously coached two men's grass-court greats in Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, told wtatennis.com that Osaka needs to adjust her mindset when playing on English lawns.
"Like all players, most of the adaptations are mental. They involve the nuances of the court surface. I don’t think she has to change her game much, just awareness and shot selection," said Annacone.
While Osaka has won the last two Grand Slams played on hard courts - last year's US Open and this year's Australian Open - she has never gone beyond the third round at the All England Club, and has disclosed she's not comfortable on grass. On her first grass-court appearance of the year, at the Edgbaston Priory Club, she found herself "screaming on the inside". As much as Osaka appreciates the aesthetics of grass-court tennis - she considers the green to be "pretty" - she says "you are not that sure what you are going to get" with the bounce, "so you kind of have to be on guard at all times".
Osaka has the game for grass, though, according to Annacone.
"Osaka is well suited for the grass. She has a terrific power game and first strike tennis. Because there aren't a ton of grass events, it may take a little time to get comfortable with the grass-court nuances, but all the ingredients are there. On grass, you look for mobility, power and the ability to dictate from the first strike, both serve plus one, and return plus one, and she has it all," said Annacone.
Annacone can see Osaka lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish this summer.
"There is no reason she can't win Wimbledon and when you look at the number of different winners on the WTA Tour this year, she should be considered a favorite, especially since she has won two of the last three majors," he argued.
As a winner of nine Wimbledon singles titles, no one knows more than Martina Navratilova how to succeed inside the All England Club. Speaking to wtatennis.com, Navratilova said that the Japanese ought to adapt her game to deal with any irregular bounces on grass, giving herself more margin for error than on hard courts.
"My suggestion for Osaka, because of how she plays, would be that she needs to give herself more margin for error because of the irregular bounces, and really get under the ball when it's a slice," said Navratilova. "She should also get up closer to the baseline as the ball just doesn't bounce as far on grass as it does on other surfaces."
Pam Shriver, a former Wimbledon semi-finalist, told wtatennis.com that Osaka's technique should "translate" to the All England Club.
"Osaka needs to make sure her swings are compact and her racket is a tad lower behind the ball but her technique is good to translate into grass," Shriver said.
"She should work on mid-court swing-volleys, taking advantage of her power on a grass court. Opponents will be on the defensive even more. Her serve out wide on both sides with a hard second shot into the open court can be her go-to play on grass," Shriver added. "Mindset is the intangible of most importance on grass, the surface that is played on the least during the year. Many athletes just never get settled or confident on grass. Others grow into understanding how to play and be confident on grass."
Shriver is intrigued to watch Osaka compete at Wimbledon this summer. "It’s not easy to say 100 per cent about Osaka [whether she can win the title]. She has the power, the serve, the movement, and the recent history of winning on the biggest stages, but Wimbledon is different. I am actually excited to see her play on grass this summer and in coming years."