How Osaka, Radokano and Fernandez can learn from Sharapova’s growth on mud

Two millimeters of land mass—iron oxide is what creates Sienna’s distinctive burnt hue—covering stadiums in Paris can be a bog for the mud beginner. It is very unstable, and creates all kinds of physical problems.

Maria Sharapova’s first exposure to this horror ended poorly in 2003, with a 6-0 6-4 loss to Spanish clay court player Magoy Suerna. Sharapova was only 16 years old – but she’s already a big hitter with a promising career underway. However, nothing indicates that she will solve a Rubik’s cube that was made of clay.

After winning a second-round match four years later at Roland Garros, Sharapova spoke with an unforgettable quote, saying she felt “like a cow on the ice.” It brings an instant (indelible) image to mind and was a hot topic in 2012 when I actually made it to the finals in Paris.

“I can’t tell you how many times in the past four weeks I’ve heard that phrase from journalists,” Sharapova said at the time. “I’ll give you the standard answer. That’s what I do occasionally, and I’m sure it sounds like it.”

It wasn’t just a move for Sharapova. It was also the massive physical loss imposed from matches as it did not result in as many winners as they did on faster surfaces. It required different muscles to glide. Early in her career, she never imagined that she could amass the seven tough matches required of the champs at Roland Garros.

However, a decade ago, she defeated Italian Sara Irani 6-3, 6-2 to win her first French Open title. Besides her previous three major wins – 2004 Wimbledon, 2006 US Open, 2008 Australian Open – she’s only 10y A woman to capture a rare opportunity in the Grand Slam.

In a paradox not lost on Sharapova; She won her second French Open title two years later, defeating Simona Halep in a match that lasted more than three hours. This, on the surface, she thought was her worst. Note, her career winning percentages: hard court (.777), turf (.794) – and mud (.815).

Photo by Thomas Lovelock/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

Many great players have lost one title less than that personal slam, among them Justin Henin, Monica Seles and Martina Hingis. Lindsey Davenport – joined by Pete Sampras and Boris Becker – missed the matching group by failing to win at Roland Garros.

10y The anniversary of Sharapova’s breakthrough is a good time to remind those skeptics in an armchair that it’s time road very early in the curve to start making final judgments on some of today’s young players who have already had success on the hard court

Naomi Osaka won her first major, the 2018 US Open, at the age of 20. Now she’s 24, and she’s won four majors, all on hard courts. Emma Radocano and Lila Fernandez played the US Open final last year, but mud is still something out of their reach.

Mastering the jagged mud of Paris and the slippery slope of Wimbledon’s pristine grass courts requires a certain variety of game and the ability to adapt to vastly different conditions. Serena Williams is the only active woman to have a Grand Slam character, and she has done so three times. Angelique Kerber has won three different majors, but lacks the French Open on her resume; She has reached the quarter-finals twice, in 2012 and 2018. Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza have taken over Roland Garros and Wimbledon, but they have yet to win a hard court major.

Photography by Simon Prouty/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images

It was a small sample this year for our young trio. Osaka is tied 1-1 on clay for 2022, following last year’s record 2-3. Raducano, who played her first clay game of the year at the level, is a 5-4 cheerleader. Fernandez went 2-2 in Madrid and Rome. Raducanu and Fernandez are just kids in a sandbox, relatively, trying to figure it out.

“I’ve definitely learned that I can kind of adapt to this surface a lot faster than I thought and about how to stay at this point,” Radocano said Friday during Roland Garros’ media day. “I think my movement in defense has also improved a little bit.

“When do you spin and when do you hit it hard. You don’t always have to just grind it. Sometimes you can put your hard-court match on a marble court, too. It’s just finding the balance. I think clay definitely teaches you that.”

The first thing they must master, according to the 18-time main heroine Martina Navratilova, is their movement. It turns out that slipping in dirt is a learned skill.

“Unless you grew up on these things, it’s hard to get by,” Navratilova said. “You get weak easier on the mud, like if you get pushed too far—unless you really know how to slip—you won’t recover after the shot either. And it shows more, not cover the court either, with the big hitters, because you can’t make up that much.”

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Like Navratilova, Pam Shriver, a tennis analyst for ESPN and Tennis Channel, grew up playing a lot on clay but finding she didn’t fit her big game.

“Eventually, I’ll settle down and think, ‘You know what, I can play my same game, but I have to do it a little better,'” Shriver said. If it’s a play on a faster surface, I just need to do it with a little bit of conviction. A little better angle, a little better transmission.”

“These days, there isn’t much of a difference in the surfaces. Players can bring their same game on the three surfaces and make their own little tweaks here and there.”

In the end, it all comes back to Sharapova’s example. Toward the end of her career, clay became her most stable surface. As Shriver noted, look at what Sharapova did – study it – and it may happen to you.

“Clay at first was like a write-up of, ‘Oh, it’s a clay court, just try,’” Radocano said. “But now I really think I can be good and faster than I ever imagined.”

With insight from Navratilova and Shriver, who won 20 Grand Slam titles together from 1981 to 1989, including the 1984 Grand Slam, and a brief examination of how Radokano, Fernandes and Osaka managed to make some progress on clay this year at Roland. Garros:

Emma Radukano

French Open Seed: number 12

Professional records: Hall Hard: 11-9 (.550), Clay: 5-4 (.556), Grass: 3-2 (.600)

Total: 19-15 (.559)

Navratilova: “Raducanu can establish the pace of redirects very well. But the Pug has a lot to do. The holes are hard to find, so you have to take more shots and pick your place.”

Shriver: “I feel on the movement side, I think Raducanu has some potential on clay because it’s a little more refined than the other two.”

Laila Fernandez

French Open Seed: No. 17

Professional records: Hall Hardwood: 39-23 (.629), Clay: 7-8 (.467), Grass: 1-2 (.333)

Total: 47-33 (.588)

Navratilova: “Leila has no big weapons, say, Osaka. These weapons can get you out of trouble on the mud. Movement, as with Halep, should be her calling card.”

Shriver: “Hitting a Top Spin and creating a fringe, I think it’s Fernandes’ strength. Also being left-handed — the good left forehand is over the top, it goes high. I love her and she uses that in a positive way on the mud.”

Naomi Osaka

French Open: unclassified

Professional records: Hall Hardwood: 134-57 (.702), Clay: 21-17 (.553), Grass: 11-9 (.550)

Total: 166-83 (.667)

Navratilova: “For Osaka, her big shots don’t pay off on the mud. So she had to hit more balls, and it was still a risky game. In the end, I think Osaka can succeed on mud because of the weapons she has. Sharapova was a bigger hitter, and she worked.” With it. It can be accomplished. It just takes a while. You only need to put in the miles.”

Shriver: “On the mud, Osaka’s movement is not convenient. Osaka is a little older [24] So she has had a longer time to develop some scar tissue on the surface, which is an uncomfortable feeling. Like Sharapova, she can tell if I’m a little slower, the mud really helps.”

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