Osaka makes comeback to win second US Open title

New York: After one errant forehand in the first set of the US Open final, Naomi Osaka looked at her coach in the mostly empty Arthur Ashe Stadium stands with palms up, as if to say, “What the heck is happening?”
In response to another wayward forehand against Victoria Azarenka seconds later, Osaka chucked her racket. It spun a bit and rattled against the court.
Surprisingly off-kilter in the early going Saturday, Osaka kept missing shots and digging herself a deficit.
Until, suddenly, she lifted her game, and Azarenka couldn’t sustain her start.
By the end, Osaka pulled away to a 1-6 6-3 6-3 victory for her second US Open championship and third Grand Slam title overall.
“For me, I just thought,” said Osaka, who trailed by a set and a break, “it would be very embarrassing to lose this in an under an hour.”
This, then, is what she told herself with a white towel draped over her head at a changeover when things looked bleakest: “I just have to try as hard as I can and stop having a really bad attitude.” It worked.
A quarter-century had passed since a woman who lost the first set of a US Open final wound up winning: In 1994, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario did it against Steffi Graf.
“I wasn’t really thinking about winning. I was just thinking about competing,” Osaka said. “Somehow, I ended up with the trophy.”
Osaka is a 22-year-old who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father; the family moved to the US when she was 3 ans is now based in California.
Osaka and her coach, Wim Fissette — who used to work with Azarenka — have said they think the off-court activism has helped her energy and mindset in matches.
So perhaps it was no coincidence that this win over Azarenka, a 31-year-old from Belarus also seeking a third Grand Slam title but first in 7½ years, made Osaka 11-0 since tennis resumed after its hiatus because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Osaka added to her triumphs at the 2018 US Open — earned with a brilliant performance in a memorably chaotic and controversial final against Serena Williams — and 2019 Australian Open.
Azarenka carried an 11-match winning streak of her own into Saturday, including a stirring three-set victory over Williams in the semifinals, stopping the American’s bid for a 24th Grand Slam title.
Azarenka won the 2012 and 2013 Australian Opens and lost to Williams in the US Open finals each of those years.
Even after Osaka surged ahead 4-1 in the third set, the outcome was unclear. Azarenka drew to 4-3, then stood and stretched during the ensuing changeover.
“Had a little bit of a energy dip,” Azarenka said.
Osaka regained control, then laid down on the court when the final was over.
The 23,000-plus seats in the main arena at Flushing Meadows were not entirely unclaimed, just mostly so — while fans were not allowed to attend because of the coronavirus pandemic, dozens of people who worked at the tournament attended — and the cavernous place was not entirely silent, just mostly so. One of the lucky few in the house: Osaka’s boyfriend, rapper YBN Cordae. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity to play in front of millions of people watching on TV,” Azarenka said. “Unfortunately, they’re not here.” (AP)

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