Osaka Claims Third Grand Slam Title After Historic Final

FOURTH  seed Naomi Osaka has come from one set down to defeat Victoria Azarenka 1-6 6-3 6-3 in an incredible US Open decider. As a result, the 22-year-old claims her third major championship and maintains her unbeaten record in Grand Slam finals.

Billed as a battle of hard court specialists, it was going to be interesting to see how well Azarenka could return Osaka’s wonderful serve. It was Azarenka’s first major final in seven years, and her determination shone through early as she started the match brilliantly. She broke serve in the opening game after Osaka made some poor unforced errors on the forehand side, and then she held her own serve to love. Azarenka’s defence was rock solid while Osaka struggled to settle into the contest.

After a brutal forehand winner down the line, Azarenka held again and was controlling the aggression of Osaka very well. At 3-1 30-30, Osaka served a double fault and then hit a forehand long to hand Azarenka a commanding double-break lead. Osaka got visibly frustrated with herself at this point because every time it looked like she was coming back, she made another unforced error. Azarenka hit a nice backhand down-the-line to break again and take the first set 6-1.

In her third US Open final, Azarenka was quite simply controlling the baseline and not making any mistakes. Her smart returning nullified Osaka’s powerful serve and her own serving was quite unbelievable. At one stage, Azarenka had made 25 of 28 first serves despite going to the corners most of the time, and this set up some very easy winners.

A beautifully-placed return at 30-40 got Azarenka an early break and a 2-0 lead in the second set. She continued to change the angles well and make Osaka work hard across the baseline. Meanwhile, Osaka could not find her rhythm. Some of Azarenka’s touch was impressive too, as she produced some outstanding drop shots that proved impossible for Osaka to get to.

At 6-1 2-0 down, this is where Osaka finally started to shift the momentum. She got her first break of the match to bring the set back on serve, and then her forehand got going and she took over. Osaka’s confidence was rising game-by-game and she was winning her service games much easier. At the same time, Azarenka finally started to make some errors and lost her early ascendancy as a result.

Osaka gained another break to go ahead 4-3, and her shots were flying over the net at rapid speed. This included an incredible 86mph cross-court forehand winner that was one of the shots of the tournament. Osaka had two set points on Azarenka’s serve in the ninth game and took advantage, claiming the set 6-3.

The final set was full of momentum shifts. Both players held their opening service games before Osaka got herself two break point opportunities. Although Azarenka saved the first with a top-spinning forehand bomb down the line, Osaka capitalised on the second one and took an important 3-1 lead. Azarenka had three break point opportunities in the following game, including a golden chance after a poor second serve from Osaka, but she hit the return long. Although Osaka eventually held to take a commanding 4-1 lead, Azarenka never gave up.

She saved multiple break points to hold the next game, then secured the break back through some clever shot-making from the baseline. All of this hard work went to waste however, as Osaka regained another break in the next game to make it 5-3. From there, the Japanese superstar was never going to let it slip.

Some of Osaka’s serving early in the final game was magnificent. She got herself two championship points and took the second opportunity after a lengthy rally to claim her second US Open. In her victory speech after the game, Osaka continued to use her platform to raise awareness about the Black Lives Matter movement and promote racial equality. It was a fitting end to a powerful tournament from Osaka on and off the court.

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