Japan’s Naomi Osaka came from a set down to beat Victoria Azarenka of Belarus to win the US Open on Saturday and clinch her third Grand Slam title.
Fourth-seeded Osaka edged out non-seeded opponent 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 inside a nearly empty Arthur Ashe Stadium at Flushing Meadows.
It brought the 22-year-old Osaka’s number of top tennis trophies to three after his victories at the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open.
“I didn’t really enjoy that. It was a very tough match for me, ”Osaka said after his 1h 53min win.
Azarenka, 31, ran into the first set in just 26 minutes, dominating Osaka with an 88 percent success rate on her first serve.
The Japanese was unusually careless, making 13 unforced errors.
Azarenka then went ahead 2-0 in the second set before Osaka fought back to break her opponent’s serve twice and take a 4-3 lead.
Momentum had swiftly tilted in Osaka’s favor and it was broken for the third time to bring the match to a deciding set.
“I thought it would be very embarrassing to lose this in less than an hour, so I have to try my best and stop having a really bad attitude,” Osaka said, explaining the change.
Osaka enjoyed the first run of the third set in the fourth game when she broke Azarenka’s serve to take a 3-1 lead.
Azarenka then blew a golden opportunity to get back into the match, wasting three break points as Osaka rallied from 0-40 to maintain a 4-1 lead.
Azarenka saved four break points to make it 4-2 as she struggled to keep the contest alive.
When he broke Osaka in the seventh game, the set returned to service.
But Osaka backed down immediately after Azarenka hit a forehand to give himself a chance to serve for the match and the title.
In the second point of the Osaka championship, Azarenka found the net.
– ‘This was fun’ –
After hitting the rackets with his opponent, Osaka lay down in the middle of the court and looked up at the sky in celebration.
“I always see that everyone collapses after a match point. But I always think that you can hurt yourself, so I wanted to do it safely, ”Osaka said.
The match was watched by only a few dozen people, mostly officials, journalists and event staff after the coronavirus pandemic forced the tournament to take place behind closed doors.
Osaka had entered the court wearing a mask bearing the name of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African American boy who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Cleveland, Ohio in 2014.
Osaka, of Japanese and Haitian descent, wore different masks honoring victims of racial injustice and police brutality in each round of the tournament.
He also covered his face with the names of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd and Philando Castile.
Azarenka, a two-time Grand Slam champion, was playing in her first tennis major final since losing the 2013 US Open to Serena Williams.
The last years of the career of the former world number one have been interrupted, first by an injury and then by a custody battle for her son, born in December 2016.
But he enjoyed a fairytale run in New York, claiming the Western & Southern title before reaching the final of Saturday’s US Open, where he lost for the third time.
“I want to thank my team for being with me, for believing in me,” Azarenka said.
“It’s been a long way to get here, but it was fun.”