Grand Slam winners to face off in Western & Southern Open final

NAOMI Osaka and Victoria Azarenka will face off in the final of the Western & Southern Open after the pair won their respective semi-finals today. The 2018 US Open winner Osaka had initially withdrawn from the tournament in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, but with the tournament suspended for a day because of that fact, the Japanese talent was back on court. She was able to take care of 14th seed Belgian, Elise Mertens in straight sets.

The former world number one and 2020 US Open favourite made it through unscathed against Mertens who put up a fight in the second set on the way to an Osaka 6-2 7-6 win. Having not played since January, Osaka did not look like she missed a beat, racing to a 6-2 lead. Mertens continually fought, able to create a whopping eight break point opportunities in the eighth game having already broken the world number 10 early in the set. But Osaka held firm and forced it into a tiebreaker. It was a remarkable win from Osaka who did not play her best tennis 30 unforced errors for 27 winners, but she was able to grind against her Belgian opponent who could only convert three of a mind-boggling 21 break points.

“I’m really glad that I’m playing this tournament right now, because just having these match plays and being able to figure things out on the court is going to be really helpful,” Osaka said post-match. “This is my first tournament back from quarantine,” Osaka added. “So I’m happy that I’m in the finals.”

Now Osaka will face the experienced Azarenka in the Western & Southern Open final, after the Belarusian knocked out eighth seed Brit Johanna Konta in three sets. Like Osaka, Azarenka is a two-time Grand Slam winner and whilst she is a far throw from her own former number one status, Osaka knows how difficult an opponent the Belarusian can be, but was looking forward to it.

“For me, it’s really cool to be able to play Vika now, because I played her in the French last year, but I know that probably her best surface is hard court and also my best surface is hard court,” she said. “I think it will definitely be a really fun match.”

Azarenka had a tougher start to her semi-final victory, having to fight from a set down to put away Konta who has found form at the right time ahead of the US Open. The match lasted two hours and 18 minutes before Azarenka could finally book her place in the final, winning 4-6 6-4 6-1. Ranked 59th in the world, she will move inside the top 50 ahead of the US Open, but crucially has now won five consecutive games for the first time in more than four years. It was a really strong defensive effort by Azarenka who looked clean and polished with just 12 unforced errors to go with 26 winners.

“I think it was a really good, high quality match overall,” Azarenka said in her post-match press conference. “I think Johanna played really, really well. “Especially in the first set, she was really taking a lot of chances, and some of the opportunities that I had I didn’t maybe go enough for them. But she was really, really strong.

“I felt that in the second set I was able to manage those opportunities better, step up a little bit. “And then in the third set I felt like I was more, you know, in my pace and doing what I wanted to do, so I felt more comfortable.”

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