Naomi Osaka of Japan returns the ball against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus in the women's singles final match on day 13 of the 2020 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre, September 12, 2020. (Reuters)
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NEW YORK – Naomi Osaka ended Victoria Azarenka’s dream run to claim her second U.S. Open tennis title in three years with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 comeback win on Saturday which cemented her status as the sport’s leading light both on and off the court.
Unlike the 22-year-old Japanese’s first U.S. Open win in 2018 over Serena Williams, which was played in a frothing Arthur Ashe Stadium, Saturday’s drama unfolded in a strangely quiet arena as COVID-19 health and safety protocols prevented fans from entering the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre.
But the lack of buzz around the stands did not stop the two former world number ones from producing a dazzling display of shot making.
As Osaka walked off with a third Grand Slam title, Azarenka was denied a U.S. Open crown for a third time having also finished runner-up in 2012 and 2013.
Still it was a remarkable and unexpected run for the 31-year-old Belarusian, who reached her first major final in seven years.
It was the second time in two weeks Azarenka, twice a winner at the Australian Open, and Osaka had set up a final showdown. The pair had been set to meet in the Western and Southern Open final on Aug. 29 until Osaka withdrew due to a hamstring injury.
“I actually don’t want to play you in more finals,” Osaka told Azarenka with a smile during the victory ceremony.
“I didn’t really enjoy that.
“That was a really tough match for me.
“And yes, really inspiring for me because I used to watch you play here when I was younger so just to have the opportunity to play you is really great and I learned a lot.”
Having clawed her way back after years of setbacks in her career and personal life, Azarenka said that she wouldn’t let the three-set loss keep her down for long.
“I’m not necessarily disappointed. It’s just painful. It’s painful to lose. That is what it is,” the twice Australian Open champion said. “Am I going to think about it too long? Not at all. I’m not going to sit here and be miserable.”
The former world No. 1 has plenty to be happy about: After securing her first WTA title in four years at the Western & Southern Open last month, Saturday marked her first Grand Slam final appearance in seven years.
Azarenka, a U.S. Open runner-up in 2012 and 2013 as well, returned from maternity leave in 2017 only to have a bruising custody battle with her former partner that kept her from competing in that year’s Flushing Meadows campaign.
The unseeded Belarusian was not expected to be a top contender this year, but defied the odds nonetheless. (Reuters)