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Practice Pass: Osaka, Djokovic, Murray continue to find their grooves
With the US Open on the horizon, the top names are not taking practice lightly.
Published Aug 25, 2020
Early-round upsets were plentiful at this week's Western & Southern Open. When players typically arrive in Flushing Meadows, they've been playing competitively for months, and are only looking to make slight adjustments to their games. The story is much different in 2020. Everything from the new Laykold court surface to not having played a tour-level match since March presents an unprecedented obstacle to the world's best pros. As such, the players aren't taking practice lightly.
Naomi Osaka's powerful baseline game is a force to be reckoned with, especially on hard courts. But without many match reps, the former US Open and Australian Open champion will need to zero in on her consistency and ball movement.
Not in her typical groove, the 22-year-old's latest practice session revolved around consistency and maintaining a solid rhythm, without sacrificing her dominating power game. Inside-out forehands, backhands, volleys, overheads and serves were all on display.
In her opening match, Osaka survived a three-set battle against Karolina Muchova, but on Tuesday showcased a more focused level of play against Dayana Yastremska. By keeping balls deep—and more importantly moving the ball with the same consistency demonstrated in her practice—she posted a quick 6-3, 6-1 victory over the Ukranian.
With power must come precision, and Osaka is finding the sweet spot.
Andy Murray is in a similar situation as Osaka, though the three-time Grand Slam champion dipped his toes into some competitive action during the six-month tour hiatus.
Staying healthy will be top of mind for Murray, who is off to an impressive start despite falling to Milos Raonic in the round of 16. His wins over Frances Tiafoe and No. 5 seed Alexander Zverev made this week an unquestioned success.
As he gets more competitive match play under his belt, it's important that Murray utilize his time wisely. In his latest practice session, it appeared the Brit didn't push himself too hard and just focused on the basics. It was focused, routine and quick; this is exactly what Murray needs in order to avoid injury.
Novak Djokovic's practice session, on the other hand, was anything but relaxed. In his first match, the 17-time major champion hit seven double faults and had a 55% first-service percentage against Ricardas Berankis. It's a shot the Serb continues to work on, making sure to not collapse and stay up longer during his service motion.
Along with the serve, Djokovic also worked on throwing in more slices to switch up the pace. The 33-year-old can also be seen using the slice as a way to defend and work his way back into points. Oftentimes, Djokovic slides into a running backhand that falls short or in the middle of the court, which puts him in a compromising position. The defensive slice could make a difference in his upcoming matches if used well. It certainly helped on Tuesday, in a more comprehensive victory over Tennys Sandgren.