Naomi Osaka surges from slow start in US Open final to win 3rd Grand Slam title


Naomi Osaka has another US Open title to add to her trophy case.

The 22-year-old launched a stunning comeback to top Victoria Azarenka with a score of 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the US Open final, her second win in Flushing Meadows and third Grand Slam win.

With the weight of victims of police brutality purposefully on her shoulders, Osaka avenged a walkover loss against Azarenka in the final of last month’s Western & Southern Open — held on the same site as the US Open this year to minimize travel — after having to withdraw with a hamstring injury.

Azarenka, a former World No. 1, continued her winning streak into the US Open. The 31-year-old was playing for her first Grand Slam title in more than seven years, and seemed on track to fulfill that destiny after an hour.

Osaka’s historic comeback

Azarenka dominated to start, cruising to a 6-1 win in the first set and breaking Osaka early in the second set. Down 30-40 and facing a 3-0 hole, Osaka broke Azarenka back and surged ahead to even the match with a 6-3 second set win.

Osaka scored a key break early in the third set to move ahead 2-1, but Azarenka was poised to break her right back when she won the next game’s first three points. Osaka saved three break points, then finished Azarenka off to stay on top.

Azarenka succeeded in breaking Osaka two games later, but Osaka responded with a break of her own, then served for the championship.

That comeback made Osaka the first woman to win a US Open final after losing the first set since 1994, when Arantxa Sánchez Vicario topped Steffi Graf.

“I just thought it would be very embarrassing to lose this in under an hour,” Osaka said after the match. “I just had to try as hard as I can and stop having a really bad attitude.”

Osaka used US Open platform to highlight police brutality

Over the course of her US Open run, Osaka strategically used her masks to highlight victims of police brutality. She started with Breonna Taylor and was soon making headlines.

On Saturday, it was Tamir Rice’s name on the mask.

After securing the championship, Osaka was asked by ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi what message she wanted to send with the masks.

Osaka pointedly responded with her own question.

“Well, what was the message that you got? That’s more the question,” Osaka said. “I feel like the point is to make people start talking.”

Rinaldi did not answer her question, and instead asked how gratified she felt about the awareness she raised. Parents of both Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery have thanked Osaka in a video for sending the message.

“I feel like I'm a vessel, at this point, in order to spread awareness. It’s not going to dull the pain, but hopefully I can help with anything that they need,” Osaka said on Tuesday after seeing the parents’ video.

Depleted women’s field at surreal US Open

Even beyond the fight for racial injustice, Osaka’s win comes in a US Open like no other, played in an empty Billie Jean King Tennis Center amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The women’s singles field was particularly depleted as the tournament began, with six members of the WTA top 10 — including world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and defending US Open champion Bianca Andreescu — withdrawing before the tournament due to concerns about travel and the pandemic.

The chaos of the draw only continued when No. 1 seed Karolina Pliskova fell in the second round. No. 2 seed Sofia Kenin, who won the Australian Open this year, went down a round later, leaving Osaka and Serena Williams as the only players left in the top 10 entering the quarterfinals.

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