Slated to play in the final of the Western & Southern Open before Naomi Osaka‘s withdrawal, the No.3 seed and Victoria Azarenka will finally meet in the final of the US Open. Osaka is seeking to win her second title in three years at Flushing Meadows while Azarenka will hoping it is third time lucky after two losses in the final in 2012 and 2013.
It was Osaka who came through in the first of a thrilling double header on Thursday night, fighting past an inspired Jennifer Brady in three sets. The pair showcased some of the best big hitting tennis of the tournament with 35 winners each for Osaka and Brady. It was the 2018 champion that edged it in the decider, holding on to an early break until the end for a 7-6 3-6 6-3 win. “I think I have no choice but to play as hard as I can, because my opponent isn’t giving me any looks,” Osaka said. “For me, normally if I focus that much, then the match potentially could be over in two. But I felt like it just kept going on.”
With a 4-18 record overall and 0-10 at slams, it looked like there would be more disappointment for Azarenka in her semi final with Serena Williams when she lost a one sided opening set. However, Azarenka fought brilliantly to make the comeback 1-6 6-3 6-3. The fearless mindset that appears to her was best showcased when she served for the match. Up 30-0, she lost two points in a row – the second with a double fault. Previous collapses to Serena may have been at the back of her mind at that stage but with a smile, she hit a service winner and an ace to finally get over the hump in slams against 23-time slam champion. “She dug me in a big hole in the first set. I had to climb my way out of there one by one, and I was happy to turn it around, because it wasn’t easy, for sure.” she said.
Osaka will go into this one as the slight favourite having played some great attacking tennis all fortnight. She has had some tough matches herself but has delivered at the key moments, quelling the threat of surging opponents on the comeback trail. Meanwhile, a refocused Azarenka is playing tennis at a level not seen since her pre-pregnancy days. She is still one of the best returners on her day and will look to seize on any weakness in the Osaka serve. This will depend to some extent on how Osaka rises to the occasion but if there is any let up, Azarenka looks ready to punish her opponent.
Prediction – Victoria Azarenka in three sets