August 23, 2019 / 6:25 PM / 24 days ago

'Fast healer' Osaka ready for U.S. Open title defense

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - Wimbledon - All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London, Britain - July 1, 2019 Japan's Naomi Osaka reacts during her first round match against Kazakhstan's Yulia Putintseva REUTERS/Tony O'Brien/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Naomi Osaka’s knee injury suffered in the lead-up to her U.S. Open title defense has improved and the Japanese does not expect it to limit her performance in the year’s final Grand Slam.

The world number one’s participation in the major was put in serious doubt last week when she retired from a quarter-final clash in Cincinnati where she felt pain around her left knee after coming down on her leg following her service motion.

“It’s getting better. Like, I have been playing more, like, longer every day. It’s feeling better,” Osaka, 21, said during a U.S. Open Media Day inside Louis Armstrong Stadium. “Luckily I’m a fast healer, so I think it’s looking good.”

Osaka sought treatment and briefly returned to the court to play two more points but was broken to fall 2-0 behind in the third set against American Sofia Kenin before retiring.

But Osaka, who will begin her New York campaign against Russian Anna Blinkova, said she felt comfortable returning to the scene where she claimed her first career Grand Slam.

In March, Osaka arrived at Indian Wells for the first title defense of her career. She lost in the fourth round but said the experience of learning what “defending champion pressure” felt like should help her at Flushing Meadows.

“I just feel more loose and comfortable here,” said Osaka, who was born in Japan but raised in the United States.

“I’m not sure if it’s because the last couple of months have been kind of turbulent, but definitely I feel really comfortable and I know that, despite everything, I play well here every year. So I’m not too worried about that.”

Reporting by Frank Pingue; Editing by Ken Ferris

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