Naomi Osaka won her second U.S. Open women’s singles title and third career Grand Slam singles championship with a gritty 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Victoria Azarenka on Saturday in New York, battling back after a soft opening set to take control with her pace and powerful serve.
Osaka, who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father and now lives in Los Angeles, became the first woman to win the U.S. Open title after losing the opening set of the final since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario lost the first set to Steffi Graf in 1994 and rebounded to win.
Osaka previously won the U.S. Open title in 2018, recording an emotionally draining victory over crowd favorite Serena Williams. Osaka followed that by winning the Australian Open in 2019. There was no crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday because of safety regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the match was full of drama and marvelous shotmaking. Osaka won $3 million. Azarenka won $1.5 million.
Azarenka, a Belarus native who has two Grand Slam titles to her credit and was the runner-up at Flushing Meadows in 2012 and 2013, looked dominant early Saturday but couldn’t sustain that pace. “Congratulations to Naomi,” she said during the postmatch ceremony. “Congratulations on an incredible two weeks for you. I hope we can meet in some more finals.”
Osaka, who plopped down on the court on her back with her hair fanning out behind her after she won, said the match was “really tough,” and credited Azarenka for inspiring her in the final. “I just thought it would be very embarrassing to lose in under an hour,” she said of her turnaround.
Osaka had a 4-1 lead in the third set and four break points to go up 5-1 but Azarenka came back to hold serve and cut Osaka’s lead to 4-2. Azarenka then broke Osaka’s serve, closing to within 4-3. However, Osaka broke back in the eighth game when a forehand by Azarenka flew long.
Osaka walked out to the court wearing a mask that bore the name of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was killed by a police officer in 2014. Osaka has been outspoken in her support of social justice causes, and she took part in demonstrations against police brutality in Los Angeles and in Minneapolis following the death there in May of George Floyd.
Osaka also wore a bandage wound tightly around her upper left thigh to protect a hamstring injury she had sustained during the Western & Southern Open, which was the previous tournament played in the U.S. Open bubble. That injury led her to withdraw from the scheduled final in that event, which would have matched her against Azarenka.
Azarenka, 31, showed no letdown from her emotional semifinal victory over Williams on Thursday. Azarenka took command from the start Saturday and handled Osaka’s big serves well. Azarenka also served efficiently and moved Osaka around the court. She capitalized on Osaka’s unforced errors to break Osaka’s serve in the first game and again in the fifth to take a 4-1 lead.
Azarenka, grunting with every stroke, never faced a break point in the first set and broke Osaka’s serve to end the set with a backhand winner. Azarenka committed three unforced errors in that set, to 13 by Osaka.
The second set began as an extension of the first. Azarenka, who lived in Manhattan Beach for a few years before recently relocating to Boca Raton, Fla., broke Osaka’s serve in the second game for a 2-0 lead, but Osaka got back into the match by capitalizing on her first break point and cutting Azarenka’s lead to 2-1. Osaka then held for 2-2, relying on a serve that averaged about 105 mph on her first serves.
Osaka played a powerful service game to pull even at 3-3 and then broke Azarenka’s serve to take a 4-3 lead. Azarenka began to commit more errors, particularly on her backhand, and Osaka stepped up like the champion she is. Osaka took the set 6-3, with another service break to end a long and grueling game. Through the first two sets, each woman had 21 winners; Osaka had committed 18 unforced errors to 13 by Azarenka.
Elliott reported from Los Angeles .