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MADRID: Naomi Osaka says she is “embracing the clay a lot more now” as she captured her first victory on the surface since 2022 in the Madrid Open first round on Wednesday.

The Japanese former world number one grew up playing on hard courts in the United States and has mostly struggled on the red dirt over the years.

But back at the Caja Magica for the first time in two years, Osaka looked comfortable during her 6-4, 6-1 win over Belgian lucky loser Greet Minnen to book a second-round meeting with 15th seed Liudmila Samsonova.

It was just the fourth victory on clay for Osaka since the start of 2021 and the four-time Grand slam champion is hopeful it won’t be her last in Madrid this fortnight.

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“I’ve had several ‘incidents’ on clay but I’m embracing it a lot more now,” the 26-year-old Osaka told reporters in the Spanish capital.

“I feel like there’s definitely beauty to it. I’m taking a lot of inspiration from people that do very well here. I’m not expecting to be like, Iga (Swiatek), or something, but I just want to do the best with what I have.”

On Arantxa Sanchez stadium on Wednesday, Osaka was breezing through her service games in the opening set but couldn’t convert any of her first three break point opportunities before she finally got the break she needed in the 10th game to take a one-set lead.

The second set was a stroll compared to the first as Osaka built a 5-0 advantage and secured the win with a backhand winner on the 79-minute mark.

“I think I slid a couple of times to my forehand pretty well, so I was excited about that,” explained Osaka.

“She was hitting really good drop shots but I think I got to a couple quite well.

“I think just movement-wise I’m feeling a lot more comfortable. I think shot-wise, I hit a couple of heavy balls. Hopefully I’m able to continue that.”

Osaka has extra motivation to do well on clay this season due to the fact the Olympic Games will be played on the red dirt at Roland Garros this summer.

“The Olympics are a really big goal for me. I would really love to play them,” she said.

Next up, fellow former US Open champion Emma Raducanu was not as fortunate as the Brit fell 6-2, 6-2 to Argentinian qualifier Maria Lourdes Carle in one hour and 25 minutes.

Fresh off a title run in Rouen last week, 2016 US Open champion Sloane Stephens picked up a sixth consecutive win on clay with a hard-fought 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 success against Italian Martina Trevisan.

Home favourite and former world number two Paula Badosa, who is struggling with long-term back pain since she sustained a stress fracture last year, crashed out 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 to Spanish qualifier Jessica Bouzas Maneiro.

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