After beating her arch-rival Victoria Azarenka in the 2020 U.S. Open title, Naomi Osaka has become a two-time champion of the tournament.
Osaka is a holder of three Grand Slams in her kitty having won the 2018 U.S. Open and the 2019 Australian Open.
The 22-year-old Japanese tennis star fought from a set down against her Belarusian opponent ,31, to lift her second US Open title in three years with a 1-6 6-3 6-3 victory at Flushing Meadows.
“I just thought it would be very embarrassing to lose this in under an hour,” Osaka said, explaining that she told herself to “stop having a really bad attitude.”
“I always see everyone sort of collapse after match point, but I always think you may injure yourself, so I wanted to do it safely,” she explained.
Naomi, who is already the highest-earning female athlete in the world, adds another £2.3 million in prize money to her fortune as she becomes the first Asian player to win three major titles, surpassing Chinese trailblazer Li Na.
Azarenka who defeated Serena William to set up the US Open final showdown with Naomi Osaka, said: “It’s not easy times in the world right now. So I’m very grateful for the opportunity to play in front of millions of people watching on TV, unfortunately not here.”
Azarenka then blew a golden opportunity to get back into the match, wasting three break points as Osaka recovered from 0-40 to hold for a 4-1 lead.
Azarenka saved four break points to make it 4-2 as she battled to keep the contest alive. When she broke Osaka in game seven, the set was back on serve.
But Osaka immediately broke back after Azarenka pushed a forehand wide to leave herself the opportunity of serving for the match and title. On Osaka’s second championship point, Azarenka found the net.
– ‘This was fun’ –
After touching racquets with her opponent, Osaka lay down in the middle of the court and looked up at the sky in celebration. “I always see everyone sort of collapse after match point. But I always think you may injure yourself so I wanted to do it safely,” Osaka said.
The match was watched by just a few dozen people, mostly officials, journalists and event staff after the coronavirus pandemic forced the tournament to be held behind closed doors.
Osaka had walked onto the court wearing a mask bearing the name of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African-American boy who was shot dead by a white police officer in Cleveland, Ohio in 2014. Osaka, of Japanese and Haitian heritage, wore different masks honoring victims of racial injustice and police brutality in each round of the tournament.
She also donned face coverings bearing the names of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd and Philando Castile.
Azarenka, a two-time Grand Slam champion, was playing in her first tennis major final since losing the 2013 US Open to Serena Williams.
The last few years of the former world number one’s career have been disrupted, firstly by injury then by a custody battle over her son, born in December 2016. But she enjoyed a fairytale run in New York, clinching the Western & Southern title before reaching Saturday’s US Open final, where she lost for the third time.
“I want to thank my team for sticking with me, for believing in me,” Azarenka said. “It’s been a long road of getting here, but this was fun,” she added.