A day after saying she was “not really that comfortable” playing on grass, the top-ranked women’s player needed three sets to get past her first-round opponent at the Birmingham Classic, a Wimbledon warm-up in England. Osaka lost the second set to Maria Sakkari of Greece before recovering to win 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, for only her 11th tour-level victory on grass. “I was kind of screaming on the inside during that entire match,” Osaka said. “I got lucky a little bit, I guess.” Osaka has yet to make it past the third round at Wimbledon, which starts July 1. Osaka needs to reach the final in Birmingham to guarantee retaining the top spot in the rankings heading into Wimbledon. “I feel every day that I play on grass, of course I’m going to learn how to play better, but for now, I’m just really happy I was able to win that match,” she said.
The England defender says making the Women’s World Cup semifinals in 2015 was a surprise, so losing to Japan in the penultimate match wasn’t a bitter disappointment. This time, the Lionesses expect to beat Japan in their Group D finale Wednesday in Nice, France. “Potentially this is a little more intense,” Bronze said. “In 2015, maybe we overachieved a little bit. We played very well in that semifinal and I think we probably could have won it. But now we have more belief. … We want to get to the final and beat any team that gets in front of us. We know we can.”
Photo: MARTIN BUREAU;Martin Bureau / AFP / Getty Images