Editor’s note: After picking up an injury, Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the final.
The big surprise in the WTA “Cincinnati” final is 2-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka. The Belorussian was winless in 2020 so far with her last match victory coming back at the Western & Southern Open 2019. Just two weeks ago, Azarenka lost easily to Venus Williams in Lexington and didn’t look as if she had a lot of tennis left in her.
WTA Cincinnati Final Prediction
Naomi Osaka vs Victoria Azarenka
Starting as a huge underdog against Donna Vekic in the opening round, Azarenka played on a level we’ve not seen from her in a long, long time. Perhaps even not after becoming a mother in 2016. She followed it up with victories over Caroline Garcia, Alize Cornet, and Ons Jabeur, before running into red-hot Johanna Konta in the semifinals. The Brit looked on the way to blasting her off the court, before Azarenka managed to tune in her backhand return and regained control in a 4-6 6-4 6-1 win.
Naomi Osaka was basically out of the tournament already, when she decided to boycott her semifinal on Thursday to support the fight against racial injustice in the United States. However, as the tournament directors joined her in this campaign and postponed the semis until Friday, Osaka was allowed to come back and took the court against Elise Mertens.
The Japanese blew out her opponent in the opener before having to prevail in a tightly-contested 84-minute second set. Her attacking game became messy and filled with more errors, but what was most impressive about her performance was how she played the pivotal points. Osaka saved eight break points in a crucial game at 4-4, fending off Mertens with many fearless forehand winners.
Azarenka’s only win over Osaka dates back to the 2016 Australian Open, back when the Japanese was not a top-level player yet. Since then, Osaka scored two wins over the Belarusian on clay, statistically her worst surface.
This is a fairytale run of a player who barely anyone expected to see at this stage of a Premier tournament again. While Azarenka used to be a very attacking player, she’s been very impressive this week also in the defensive department. Her counterpunching has been put to the test by various opponents and the 31-year-old passed every exam. Azarenka used to have one of the world’s best return games and if she can respond to Osaka’s serve as aggressively as she has been all week, she will not be at at a huge disadvantage here. While really impressive at times, Osaka’s level has been much more fluctuating than Azarenka’s this week.
Prediction: Azarenka in 3
Main Photo from Getty.