Many, among circuit observers, expected surprises in this 2020 edition of a US Open like no other. Especially in the women’s table where no less than six top 10 players were missing due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, it is clear that the poster for this final of the ladies’ singles results from a certain logic. As a preamble to the American Major, the Cincinnati Premier 5, relocated to Flushing Meadows, served as an ideal preparation and the same two players – Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka – would have fought for the title if the first one had not thrown the sponge due to a thigh injury.
The Japanese had made this decision so as not to compromise her chances for this US Open, well she took it. After a hesitant start, probably due to some apprehension, against compatriot Misaki Doi, Osaka gradually found her rhythm and held her place as the title contender, she who had triumphed in New York two years ago. If the young Marta Kostyuk also took a set in the 3rd round, only Jennifer Brady really worried her in the semifinals in a gunboat competition. Very committed to the movement against racism and police violence in the United States, the seed number 4 has assumed on the court and will unveil a 7th mask with the name of an African-American victim on Saturday, as she had promised on the evening of his 1st round.
Seeing Victoria Azarenka at this point, 7 years after her last Grand Slam final at the same venue, is obviously more surprising. But it was still well announced “in” Cincinnati. She took advantage of the suspension of the circuit for five months to return to her best level and seize the opportunity offered by a table less dense than usual. Full of confidence and on a series of 12 successes (including the Osaka package), she thrived on the fast New York courts where she left only two sets on the way, beating Serena Williams in the process. which she had never managed to do in their previous 10 Grand Slam duels. The Belarusian has the opportunity to achieve an unprecedented double at Flushing (and probably never possible again).
1st tour: bat Misaki Doi [JAP] : 6-2, 5-7, 6-2
2e tour : bat Camila Giorgi [ITA] : 6-1, 6-2
3e tour: bat Marta Kostyuk [UKR] : 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-2
1 / 8e de finale: bat Anett Kontaveit [EST/N°14] : 6-3, 6-4
1/4 final: bat Shelby Rogers [EU] : 6-3, 6-4
1/2 finale : bat Jennifer Brady [EU/N°28] : 7-6(1), 3-6, 6-3
1er tour : bat Barbara Haas [AUT] : 6-1, 6-2
2e tour : bat Aryna Sabalenka [BLR/N°5] : 6-1, 6-3
3e tour : bat Iga Swiatek [POL] : 6-4, 6-2
1 / 8th of the final: bat Karolina Muchova [RTC/N°20] : 5-7, 6-1, 6-4
1/4 final: beats Elise Mertens [BEL/N°16] : 6-1, 6-0
1/2 finale : bat Serena Williams [EU/N°3] : 1-6, 6-3, 6-3
Face to face
The two players have crossed swords three times on the Tour and Osaka leads 2-1. Azarenka largely won their only hard encounter at the 2016 Australian Open (6-1, 6-1), but the Japanese was then 18 years old. This was before it hatched at the highest level.
Since then, Osaka has won on clay in Rome in 2018 (6-0, 6-3) and at Roland Garros in 2019 (4-6, 7-5, 6-3) against the Belarusian who was, it too, far from its best level. It is therefore difficult to draw lessons from it.
Naomi Osaka: “I’ve learned a lot from the ups and downs I’ve been through, not just in the Grand Slam but on the circuit in general. I feel stronger mentally today and it will be interesting to see how it goes. “
Victoria Azarenka : “Seven years ago, after winning the Australian Open and other tournaments, I played on a regular basis and was expected in the final. This time, I don’t think I was expected at this level. But it’s a lot more fun, more fulfilling, more enjoyable. “
The 3 stats to remember
8. Every time she reached the quarter-finals in Grand Slam, Naomi Osaka went to the end. She is now 8 wins to no losses from this stage of the competition. To confirm the trend, he will have to win a new title at Flushing and therefore a 9th victory.
4. It had been four years since Victoria Azarenka had reached two consecutive finals. At the time, in 2016, the Belarusian had made the double Indian Wells-Miami on hard. Definitely, she loves the United States.
64. As the number of minutes more spent on the court by Naomi Osaka, compared to Victoria Azarenka, during this US Open. On three occasions, the Japanese exceeded 2 hours of play in this tournament (against Doi, Kostyuk and Brady), which only happened once to the Belarusian (against Muchova).
Given the quality of the semi-finals, the poster promises a successful conclusion. At least on the tennis level. Because more than ever, the silence is likely to be deafening in the immensity of the Arthur-Ashe court, and it is eminently regrettable that some 23,000 New York fans cannot be enthusiastic about the expected spectacle. Between two players impressive in their ability to hold their line and assault their opponents, there should be several pieces of bravery, and certainly some frenzied ping-pong streaks.
Finally, Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka have few references to each other, at least not enough for there to be any psychological ascendancy. Between the explosive tennis of the first and the ability of the second to play the “walls” at the back, it’s hard to say who will take the advantage. Fit and confident, they have yet to experience a racket-in-hand loss at Flushing Meadows this year. And they showed how much they were able to disregard the closed doors to keep their competitive spirit, without benefiting from the extra soul or energy brought by outside elements.
For Osaka, it will be above all very important to maintain a high percentage of first balls to protect themselves from the quality of the opponent’s raise. The challenge will be much the same for Azarenka who suffered on her second ball in the first set against Serena. Mentally, the two champions seem well armed: the Japanese has never lost a Grand Slam final, when the Belarusian takes everything that happens to her as a bonus after her past struggles. If we had to give a little advantage, it would eventually be Osaka who finally seems to be comfortable in his star costume of the circuit. Above all, she has more recent milestones and major results, which might help her approach the event better. But this final should be close and suspenseful, at least hopefully.
Our prognosis: Naomi Osaka in 3 sets.