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Osaka ready to have fun against Halep

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Originally published on 25/05/16 00:00

The 18-year-old defeated Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6-3 6-3 to reach the third round at Roland Garros, where she will meet No.6 seed Simona Halep. It was the veteran Croatian Lucic-Baroni who upset Halep in Paris last year, and Osaka will be hoping to pull off a similar scalp against the 2014 finalist on Friday.

Osaka only made her Grand Slam debut in January, where she reached the Australian Open third round as a qualifier, beating Donna Vekic and No.18 seed Elina Svitolina before falling to Victoria Azarenka. She is determined to enjoy the occasion with the match against Halep likely to take place on one of the show courts at Roland Garros.

“It’s going to be really fun because she’s someone I have watched on the TV a lot,” said Osaka. “It’s the same thing as the Australian Open, I play someone big I the third round and I’ll try to have fun.”

What makes Osaka's progress all the more impressive is that she has virtually no experience of playing on red clay, and despite a game that is better suited to hard courts, she is quickly finding her feet on the red dirt.

“Last year I didn’t really play red clay, so technically I think this year is my first time on red clay,” said Osaka. “It’s completely different [to green clay]. But the major tournaments are on clay, so I have to get used to it. I have to adjust so I can’t complain about it all the time.”

Osaka, who defeated Sara Errani in Miami in March, is no stranger to upsets. On her WTA debut in Stanford in July 2014, she claimed the scalp of former US Open champion Sam Stosur, who was ranked nearly 400 places above her at the time.

After qualifying for the French Open on her ranking alone, she sent No.32 seed Jelena Ostapenko packing in straight sets in the first round. But Osaka, who was born in Japan but whose father is from Haiti, is the same age as Ostapenko, Belinda Bencic and Ana Konjuh and she is striving to catch up with her peers.

“When I see people doing good that makes me want to do good, too,” Osaka said after her first round match. “They’re all really good and they're all ranked higher than me and I kind of like see us all as the '97 group. They're kind of doing better than me right now, but I am trying to do my own thing and I'm sure they're trying to do their own thing. 

“We're all going for different goals that are kind of the same because everyone wants to be No.1 and stuff.”

With at least 130 points to take away from her sojourn in Paris, world No.101 Osaka is guaranteed to well and truly break into the Top 100 when the rankings are released after the French Open. When asked about her next goal, she replied, to much laughter: "Top 75. Is that weird? Now I have to go through this tournament hopefully and then after that I gotta be more specific."

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