Third time wasn’t a charm for Victoria Azarenka Saturday in the women’s final of the US Open. The 31-year-old had reached this stage twice before on Arthur Ashe only to get denied, most recently seven years ago by Serena Williams.
Today, in a fan-less environment, Azarenka led 6-1, 2-0 with game point on her serve at 40-30. But her opponent, Naomi Osaka, got up off the mat and stormed back, winning 10 of the next 12 games and eventually take the title 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.
“I think in the first set I was so nervous, I wasn’t moving my feet,” Osaka admitted. “I felt like I was not playing — not that I expect myself to play 100%, but it would be nice if I could even play, like, 70%. But, yeah, I just felt like I was too much in my own head.
“Then in the second set, of course I was down early, which really didn’t help me out. I just thought to myself to be positive, don’t lose 6-1, 6-0, hopefully give her a slight run for her money.”
Osaka wins her second US Open and third overall Grand Slam. The 22-year-old has never lost a match once she reaches the quarterfinal round at a Slam, and she’s now won her last 12 deciding sets at this level.
“I feel like two years ago I maybe would have folded being down a set and a break,” Osaka added. “But I think, you know, all the matches that I played in between that time shaped me and made me or forced me to mature more. Especially all the matches that I’ve played here were very tough.
“I think definitely, you know, I’m more of a complete player now. I feel like I’m more aware of what I’m doing.”
Azarenka falls to 0-3 in the US Open final, but hopes for the former No. 1 are high after a sparkling run to the Cincinnati-New York title and then beating Serena to reach her biggest final since 2013.
I’m not disappointed. I’m not necessarily disappointed. It’s just painful. It’s painful to lose. That is what it is. It was close. I was close. But it didn’t go my way,” Azarenka said.
“I think it’s definitely been a great three weeks of tennis,” she added. “I haven’t had such results in quite a long time, so I’m very excited for it. Today, it’s a loss. As I said, it doesn’t change for me much. Of course, I would have loved to win today. It is what it is. I gave everything that I could today on the court. It didn’t come my way. But I’m very proud of the last three weeks that I’ve been here.
“I felt that I progressed a lot. I’ve played a lot of great matches. I felt that I’ve tested myself physically, mentally on very difficult stages. It’s been great. I’m very proud of myself. I want to continue to keep going the same way, enjoy myself. As I said, it was a lot of fun for me to play, to be in the final of the US Open. I’m very grateful for this opportunity.”
The likable Azarenka was nearly flawless at the start of the match, especially on serve as she zipped out to a first set lead in less than 30 minutes.
With a point to go down 3-0 in the second, Osaka looked done and out of sorts. But the world No. 9 kept at it and began to cut down errors and find her rhythm.
Azarenka has power but not Osaka-type power. And Naomi began dictating, moving Azarenka around.
“I think the break, maybe in the beginning of the second set, she started to play better. Caught a few lines, had some really good shots. She was being really aggressive,” Azarenka said.
“I don’t know if there was just one momentum shift. I felt there were a few moments that were shifting, even in the second set was it game 4-3, I think. It was a really long game or something. Maybe it was 5-3. I don’t remember exactly the score now. I didn’t kind of convert my chances, but I felt like I was kind of changing the momentum but I didn’t really finish it.”
Both players should be at the French Open at the end of the month contesting the third and final Grand Slam of this abbreviated season.
Azarenka is leaving tomorrow for a wildcard in Rome while Osaka isn’t 100% committed to playing in Paris.
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