Jacksonville Sports Day

Osaka Rallies Past Azarenka to win 2020 US Open Women’s Singles Title

US Open Women's Singles Finalist Victoria Azarenka and Women's Singles Champion Naomi Osaka. (Photo by Simon Bruty/USTA)

BY Victoria Chiesa/USTA

Down but never out. Trailing by a set and a break, No. 4 seed Naomi Osaka rallied for a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka to win the women’s singles title at the 2020 US Open on Saturday.

Controlling the middle of the court for much of the first 30 minutes of the match, with the relentless brand of baseline tennis that first took her to the top of the WTA rankings eight years ago, it seemed for all the world as though Azarenka would roll to her third Grand Slam singles title as she built a 6-1, 2-0 lead, with a game point on serve for 3-0.

Inside Arthur Ashe Stadium that’s precisely what Osaka did to become a two-time US Open champion, and collect her third Grand Slam title overall.

The victory is a perfect conclusion to a history-making campaign for Osaka in New York, in more ways than one.

She is the first woman to rally from a set down to win the singles championship match since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in 1994. She is also the first Asian player to win three Grand Slam singles titles, breaking the tie she held with China’s Li Na. With the victory, she also returns to the Top 3 in the world rankings, moving back up to world No. 3.

In a three-week span that saw her shine off the court just as much as she did on it, the Japanese No. 1 further cemented her status as a superstar not just in women’s tennis, but international sport as a whole.

“I feel like everything sort of pushed me to be better. I think I played some really good tennis this week, and I can be happy about that. I also think everything off the court was definitely building up. I had some moments where I was very stressed out,” Osaka said. “Honestly, I was learning a lot during all these matches that I played in the Open.

“But I think all in all it’s the person that’s very mentally strong. For me, it’s one step forward because I always wanted to be that type of person.”

“I feel like two years ago, I maybe would have folded being down a set and a break,” Osaka said after the match, recalling the differences between Saturday’s win and her first in 2018. “But I think, all the matches that I played in between that time shaped me and made me or forced me to mature more. Especially all the matches that I’ve played here were very tough.

“I think definitely I’m more of a complete player now. I feel like I’m more aware of what I’m doing.”

In the second set, the 22-year-old started to find her range, landing more first serves and wrestling control from Azarenka in the rallies. As quickly as she’d fallen behind, it seemed, Osaka drew level, winning six of seven games to send the match to a final set.

Her momentum continued well into the decider, as her groundstrokes continued to find the corners and her serve stayed on-point. The first to break serve in the final set, Osaka staked her claim to an early 3-1 lead, and navigated her way out of a 0-40 deficit in what proved to be a crucial fifth game.

“In the first set, I thought she was playing great. Honestly, I felt like there was nothing I could do. In the second set, I just kept trying for every point,” Osaka said.

“I think in the first set, I was so nervous, I wasn’t moving my feet. I felt like I was not playing—not that I expect myself to play 100 percent, but it would be nice if I could even play, like, 70 percent. I just felt like I was too much in my own head. Then in the second set, of course I was down early, which really didn’t help me out. I just thought to myself to be positive, don’t lose 6-1, 6-0, hopefully give her a slight run for her money. I just sort of ran with that line of thinking.

“I would say a really important game was definitely the game that I broke her in the third set. I’m glad that I did it earlier on because I felt like, later down the line, it would have gotten really tight for me.”

With her back against the wall, Azarenka authored late resistance. The Belarusian saved a trio of break points herself in the sixth game, where losing any one of them would’ve seen her trail, 5-1. She later denied Osaka a pair of game points that would have seen her lead 5-2. Instead, Azarenka turned the decider on its head and got back on serve, but got no closer from then on.

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