Naomi Osaka said she has a better plan for coping with clay after she suffered a second-round exit at the Madrid Open on Sunday, the Japanese second seed losing 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 to Karolina Muchova.
Elsewhere, two-time Madrid champion Simona Halep held off a late fightback from China’s Zheng Saisai to win 6-0, 6-4 but Victoria Azarenka is out, after she withdrew from her second round match against Jessica Pegula with a back injury.
Osaka, the reigning US and Australian Open champion, has seven career hard-court titles, but has never managed to lift a clay-court trophy.
Playing her first clay-court event since the 2019 French Open, Osaka beat compatriot Misaki Doi in the first round, but she came unstuck against Muchova, who is making her top 20 debut this week.
Osaka is bidding to win a third consecutive major title at the French Open next month but has never previously made it past the third round in Paris.
Muchova beat three top 20 players, including world number one Ashleigh Barty, en route to the Australian Open semi-finals earlier this year and she can now add world number two Osaka to her growing list of scalps.
Muchova used a single break of serve to claim the opening set before Osaka, a quarter-finalist at Madrid two years ago, fell 3-1 behind in the second but rallied to win the next five games and force a decider.
Muchova regrouped and broke Osaka early in the third set, and then again for a 5-1 lead, before sealing victory in just under two hours.
The Czech will meet Greek 16th seed Maria Sakkari, who brushed aside Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit 6-3, 6-1.
Fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka also made it through to the last 16 with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Daria Kasatkina.
Sabalenka will face Pegula, following Azarenka’s withdrawal.*AFP