Both Victoria Azarenka and Naomi Osaka were riding a wave of red hot form entering the 2020 US Open final, and when they collided it was a memorable match. With both players seeking a third career Grand Slam title, the 22 year old Osaka clawed back from the brink of defeat to prevail 1-6 6-3 6-3 in just under 2 hours against the veteran 31 year old Azarenka. Osaka remains undefeated in Grand Slam finals, taking her third overall and second US Open title.
The WTA star from Belarus was untouchable with her first serve in the opening set, striking it at 94% rate. It took just 27 minutes for Azarenka to take the opening set, as Osaka was put into difficult rallying positions from Azarenka’s superior shot placement and counterpunching. Osaka attempted to work her way into the match in set 2, and despite being 1-6 0-2 she was able to work her way back into the match. Osaka won 6 of the next 7 games, firing five aces, and posting a positive 16/5 W/UE ratio to even the match up 1-6 6-3.
In a tense third set, Osaka maintained her advantage, Vika sought to fire herself up and work her way back into the match, but Osaka had superior focus, breaking for 3-1 and then saving three break points in the game that followed for a 4-1 lead. Azarenka put her heart into the fight regardless, some Osaka errors allowed her to break back for 4-3 after Vika saved break points on her own serve, but Osaka would then break right back and then post a confident hold to win the match. For the first time since 1994 the winner of the US Open women’s singles final came back from a set down, as fatigue and tightness didn’t deter Osaka.
The final defeat aside, it’s a memorable comeback story for Vika, a former slam champion and US Open finalist, Azarenka spent time in the wilderness as personal matters and injuries kept her off the court, and prevented her from playing elite tennis. From 2014 to 2019 Azarenka failed to advance beyond the quarterfinals of a slam, prior to that she had two US Open finals, and two Australian Open titles on her resume. Exiting the season’s Covid break she wasn’t expected to perform at this level, but she won the W&S Open and then upset Serena Williams en route to the final.
Osaka will remain at the top of women’s tennis, though she faces a tall order transition to clay and trying to win the French Open, a tournament she’s yet to advance beyond the third round in. Osaka’s profile keeps growing globally and she’s becoming part of pop culture beyond tennis, due to her willingness to speak out on social justice issues and her big accomplishments on the court.
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