Naomi Osaka roars back against Victoria Azarenka to win second US Open title

Naomi Osaka maintained her unbeaten record in the quarter-finals and beyond at Grand Slams as she fought back from a set-and-a-break down against Victoria Azarenka to win a second US Open title in an empty Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Osaka was overwhelmed in the early stages of the match as Azarenka came out swinging but dug deep in the face of adversity to claw her way back into the contest.

The remarkable level she’d shown throughout the tournament returned after getting a foothold in the match as two-time major winner Azarenka fell away.

Her first US Open win, in 2018, will be better remembered for Serena Williams’ row with umpire Carlos Ramos and there was far less drama in this encounter.

And Osaka, who will climb to world No. 3 in the rankings, claimed a third Grand Slam title with a 1-6 6-3 6-3 win in one hour and 52 minutes.

For Azarenka, competing in her first major final for seven years, it will be a bitterly dissapointing pill to swallow. She was in total control when 6-1 2-0 up.

But Osaka, the highest-paid female athlete on the planet, showed great resolve to drag herself back into the match.

Osaka had brought seven masks – one for each round – with her to the US Open bearing the names of black victims who were killed by the police or those motivated by racism.

Tamir Rice – a 12-year-old boy killed by police in Cleveland in 2014 – was honoured by the fourth seed from Japan as she entered Arthur Ashe Stadium. Her rapper boyfriend Cordae sat in the stands wearing a ‘defund the police’ t-shirt.

Azarenka had won 55% of her return games (the second-highest total of anyone in the tournament) heading into the final and she continued that rich vein of form to break in the opening game of the match.

It was a nervy start from Osaka and the double break followed after just 17 minutes. She sat at the changeover 1-4 down with her towel over her face.

A game later as she dumped a forehand into the net, she dropped her racquet in disgust.

By the 26-minute mark, the set was done. Azarenka broke for a third time to compound Osaka’s misery.

Falling a set behind didn’t bode well for the 22-year-old. The last 25 US Open women’s singles finals had been won by the player who won the first set.

That didn’t look like changing as Osaka was broken again in the second game of the second set, but the world No. 10 struck back immediately to get it back on serve.

The wheels began falling off the Azarenka train as Osaka finally settled into the match. She began landing more first serve bullets before Azarenka cracked on her own service game, with errors flying off the Belarusian’s racquet.

Azarenka saved a set point on serve in the ninth game of the second set but was powerless to deny Osaka who struck another clean winner to level the match.

Osaka was in the ascendancy now. Azarenka save one break point in the fourth game of the third set but was powerless to resist her opponent’s might as Osaka took a 3-1 lead in the decider.

Azarenka wasted a glorious opportunity to strike back immediately, failing to convert three break points at 0-40, including sending a tame second serve return long.

Credit where it’s due, Azarenka did not fold. She saved four break points to keep her hopes alive in the sixth game of the third and was immediately rewarded as Osaka sent a backhand wildly wide on break point.

Osaka kept her cool, however, and broke the former world No. 1 to set up a chance to serve for the title. It was one she did not waste.

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