Japan’s Naomi Osaka has won the 2020 US Open on Saturday, beating Victoria Azarenka of Belarus to clinch her third Grand Slam title.
Fourth seeded Osaka beat her unseeded opponent 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 inside a near-empty Arthur Ashe Stadium at Flushing Meadows, bringing her haul of tennis major trophies to three after her victories at the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open.
Following her 1hr 53min victory, the 22-year-old told AFP, “I didn’t really enjoy that. It was a really tough match for me.”
Azarenka, 31, sprinted to the first set in just 26 minutes, dominating Osaka with an 88% success rate on her first serve.
The Japanese was uncharacteristically sloppy, hitting a whopping 13 unforced errors. Azarenka then went 2-0 ahead in the second set before Osaka fought back to break her opponent’s serve twice and take a 4-3 lead.
The momentum had quickly swung in Osaka’s favor and she broke a third time to take the match to a deciding set.
Explaining the turnaround, Osaka said, “I just thought it would be very embarrassing to lose this in under an hour so I just have to try as hard as I can and stop having a really bad attitude.”
She then enjoyed the first breakthrough of set three in game four 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 recovered from 0-40 to hold for a 4-1 lead.
Azarenka saved four break points to make it 4-2 as she battled to keep the contest alive.
When she broke Osaka in game seven, the set was back on serve.
But Osaka immediately broke back after Azarenka pushed a forehand wide to leave herself the opportunity of serving for the match and title.
On Osaka’s second championship point, Azarenka found the net. After touching racquets with her opponent, Osaka lay down in the middle of the court and looked up at the sky in celebration.
“I always see everyone sort of collapse after match point. But I always think you may injure yourself so I wanted to do it safely,” said Osaka.
The match was watched by just a few dozen people, mostly officials, journalists and event staff after the coronavirus pandemic forced the tournament to be held behind closed doors.
Osaka had walked onto the court wearing a mask bearing the name of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African-American boy who was shot dead by a white police officer in Cleveland, Ohio in 2014.
Osaka who is of Japanese and Haitian heritage, wore different masks honoring victims of racial injustice and police brutality in each round of the tournament.
She also donned face coverings bearing the names of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd and Philando Castile.
Two-time Grand Slam champion, Azarenka, was playing in her first tennis major final since losing the 2013 US Open to Serena Williams.
The former world number one’s career have been disrupted in the last few years, firstly by injury then by a custody battle over her son, born in December 2016.
But she enjoyed a fairytale run in New York, clinching the Western & Southern title before reaching Saturday’s US Open final, where she lost for the third time. She said, “I want to thank my team for sticking with me, for believing in me. It’s been a long road of getting here, but this was fun.”