Unlike the 22-year-old Japanese’s first US Open final victory over Serena Williams in 2018, which was played in a frothing Arthur Ashe Stadium, Saturday’s drama unfolded in a strangely quiet arena. But, the lack of buzz around the stands did not stop the two former World No.1s from producing a dazzling display.
As Osaka walked off with a third Grand Slam title, Azarenka was denied a US Open crown for a third time, having also finished runner-up in 2012 and 2013. However, 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 a few weeks that 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 August 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, it was really inspiring because I used to watch you play here when I was younger. The opportunity to play you is really great and I learned a lot,” she added.
Azarenka, who ended Serena Williams’s bid for a record equalling 24th Grand Slam title in the semi-finals, carried that momentum into the final with a near flawless first set. One of top returners in the women’s game, an energized Azarenka broke the fourth seed to start the final and twice more in a lop-sided opening set.
A rampaging Azarenka again broke Osaka at the first opportunity in the second set to go 2-0 up. But, Osaka would not lose her composure. After no aces in the first set, Osaka, one of the game’s top servers, slowly began to find her mark in the second.
She hammered down five aces while helping herself to three breaks on way to levelling the match. In the third set, Osaka applied all the early pressure on an increasingly rattled Azarenka. She took charge with a break to nudge in front at 3-1.
Azarenka would show her fighting spirit with a break to get back on serve at 3-4, but Osaka would not be denied.
RESULT: Women’s singles: Final: Naomi Osaka (Japan) beat Victoria Azarenka (Belarus) 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.