The 2020 US Open will not only be a memorable Slam for the circumstances but for the actual tennis over the past two weeks. In another three setter, Naomi Osaka fought back from a set and a break down to beat a fast-starting, Victoria Azarenka, 1-6 6-3 6-3. It was an absorbing final with two clear halves dominated by each player and neither playing their best tennis at the same time.
Picking up where she left off from against Serena in the semi-finals, an aggressive Azarenka was fast out the blocks. Azarenka landed 94% of first serves in during the first set, missing just one first serve (!) in the first set. This allowed Azarenka to dictate the points as she hit into the corners, moving Osaka side-to-side and putting her on the back foot by consistently changed the direction of the balls. Osaka was clearly rattled in the first set and couldn’t make a meaningful impact on the match.
Azarenka continued to dominate in the second set and led 6-1 2-0 *40-30. Osaka saved the game point with a crushing forehand down-the-line. The forehand was key for Osaka as she launched a terrific comeback. I thought the turnaround was more about Osaka upping her game than Azarenka dropping her level significantly. Azarenka was never going to be able to maintain her first serve percentage from the first set. It was such a quick turnaround though as an increasingly aggressive Osaka reeled off six games out of seven to level up at one set all.
Osaka had the momentum in the third set as Azarenka began to fade a tad with more errors off the backhand wing. The once potent serve became increasingly attackable as Osaka got more looks at the Azarenka second serve. Osaka broke at 2-1 and then had a huge hold from *0-40 to go up at 4-1. The control in the rallies had completely flipped as Osaka was now winning the majority of the extended rallies.
The match was slipping away from Azarenka but she fought like a champ. The Belarusian won the next two games, saving game points in both with some huge shots on the line in the latter, to stay afloat. Osaka wouldn’t be denied though as she broke again at 4-3 and then served out to 30, winning the match on a tremendous match point.
I ended up feeling disappointed for Azarenka which was a strange emotion because it would have so unexpected a few weeks ago that she’d even reach a Slam final again. I guess it was that she was so close, just three games away from winning the whole caboodle. This past three weeks has been a return of vintage Vika, both on and off the court. I’ve loved listening to her thoughtful press conferences. She’s such an asset to the WTA tour and i’m hopeful that she will continue to play with this confidence and joy on the court.
This final felt very similar to the Azarenka-Serena match (same scoreline!) with Osaka taking on Azarenka’s role. It was yet another example of Osaka’s mental fortitude. Not many players would have had clarity of thought to be able to stay in the present and turn this around when at one stage it looked it might be one of the quickest finals in recent memory. Osaka found her serve and forehand in the nick of the time. Osaka is now a perfect 3-0 in Slam finals. The three times she has advanced past the fourth round of a Slam, she’s gone onto win the title.
It’s been a huge three weeks for Osaka, both on and off the court. She is an extraordinary player, competitor and person. Congrats, Naomi! 👏👏👏