The World No.1 is not feeling any pain from her recent abdominal injury. By Chris Oddo, May 6, 2019

After pulling out of her first clay-court event of the season with an ab strain, Naomi Osaka is feeling fit and enjoying this grueling section of the WTA season more than ever before.

The World No.1 battled past Dominika Cibulkova on Sunday in Madrid and suffered no setbacks on the injury front.

“I didn't feel my ab during the match,” Osaka told reporters. “I still have to, like, do treatment after, but I think it's really positive because if I did feel something during the match, of course I would have continued, but it wouldn't have looked good. But for now, I feel fine, so I think it's good. … all in all it was a good match and I didn't feel my ab flare up, so that is a positive note.”

Tennis Express

The worry-free state allows Osaka time to appreciate her opportunity to improve her clay-court game. She enters Madrid with a 12-11 lifetime record on the surface, but already she has reached a semi-final this season in Stuttgart—she had never reached a quarter-final on clay prior to 2019.

That’s a great sign for Osaka, and it’s further proof that her willingness to embrace the clay is paying off this season.

“I think last year I was set on liking hard more than clay instead of embracing clay-court,” Osaka told reporters. “It's not like I can avoid this season, you know what I mean? So, I think this year I just sort of put on my energy into training and learning how to move better than I did before and yeah, I know what my goal is and I know what I'm trying to play for, so I'm doing whatever it takes to get there.”

Osaka’s next challenge will be a second-round tilt against Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo.

If her health holds up, Osaka could be a very pleasant surprise this spring on clay. She wouldn’t be the first heavy hitter that embraced the clay and learned how to dominate on the surface. Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Kiki Bertens, Petra Kvitova and so many others have used the slowness of the surface and the fact that it gives them more time to set up and connect with big strikes to their advantage.

Maybe Osaka will prove to be the next on that list.

For now, she’s keeping it fun and enjoying—rather than fearing—the red stuff.

“Well, for me it's fun now,” she said before making fun of her sliding technique with a laugh. “I mean, I feel like there's, like, an adjustment period for me and it took a few years. But now I'm more comfortable on it. I'm not sure if it's because I had a really long training block before I came to start the season, but yeah, it feels good.”