Naomi Osaka is once against a US Open champion after an impressive comeback victory against Victoria Azarenka 1-6 6-3 6-3. It looked like Azarenka was going to slay her US Open demons when she was in control of the match, leading 6-1 2-0 but a failure to hold let Osaka back into the match – an opportunity she took with aplomb.
Azarenka had been taking apart power hitters in the early rounds and some solid moments combined with controlled aggression was working greatly for her in the opening set. She took a double break lead for 4-1 thanks to another forehand long from Osaka, one of thirteen unforced errors for the No.3 seed in a bad opening set.
It seemed like Osaka was going to sink without a trace when she was broken again to start the second set after she failed to retrieve a vicious backhand down the line from the 2012 and 2013 finalist. Azarenka failed to convert a game point for 3-0 and that would be the turning point as Osaka upped her level considerably from here. After a first set with 5 winners and 13 unforced errors, she completely turned that on it’s head with 16 winners to just 5 unforced errors. The last of those came on break point with the Japanese star wrongfooting Azarenka to ensure she would serve first in the decider.
The Azarenka service game had not been too bad for half the match but there was always the expectation that it would breakdown at some point in the match. That moment came as she double faulted to go two break points down at 1-2. She saved the first of them with a blistering forehand but the second one would be converted by Osaka. A failure to convert 0-40 in the next game looked like that would be the end for Azarenka but she had one last bounce in here, getting the match back on serve from 1-4 40-A down. However, a failure to hold gave Osaka another opportunity to close out the match. She took it this time, forcing an Azarenka error on match point to seal her second US Open and third grand slam in total.
Azarenka will have been heartbroken to have lost the match after having such a considerable advantage but this is a run that would have been very unexpected even as much as a month ago. She looks a much different player physically and mentally that than the one that struggled for large parts following her return. “I gave everything that I could today on the court. It didn’t come my way. But I’m very proud of the last three weeks that I’ve been here. I felt that I progressed a lot. I’ve played a lot of great matches. I felt that I’ve tested myself physically, mentally on very difficult stages.” she said. She may well have been on the verge of retirement but now a more relaxed Azarenka could be a huge threat at next year’s Australian Open if this month has been anything to go by.
There will have been many who disagree with Naomi Osaka’s politics waiting to pounce on any weakness in her game but she has been able to use her platform for good while remaining a superstar on court. It looks to have made her a stronger person both on and off court. “I feel like a very good and recent example is the first set and the second set of the match that I played today. I think I could have easily faded away, but I really wanted to fight, just compete. I don’t know. Honestly, there wasn’t really another thought in my mind. I wasn’t really thinking about winning, I was just thinking about competing. Somehow I ended up with the trophy.”
Both players are still slated to play at the French Open later in the month but it would not be a surprise to see one or both women end up not taking part – especially with the questionable decision to allow fans as things currently stand. Azarenka will move into the top 15 next week while Osaka will be the new world No.3 behind Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep.