Fixture: (4) Naomi Osaka vs Victoria Azarenka
Date: 12 September 2020
Tournament: US Open 2020
Venue: Flushing Meadows, New York, USA
Category: Grand Slam
Surface: Outdoor hardcourt
Prize money: $39,024,000
Match timing: Not before 4 pm EDT, 1.30 am IST
Live Telecast: USA - Tennis Channel / ESPN | India - Star Sports / Disney+ Hotstar VIP
Naomi Osaka vs Victoria Azarenka preview
Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka, two former World No. 1s looking to win their respective third Grand Slam title, will square off in a blockbuster US Open final.
Osaka and Azarenka have been the two most in-form players since the tour shifted to the New York bubble. Three weeks after Osaka was forced to pull out of the Western & Southern Open summit clash due to a hamstring injury, she and Azarenka will resume their unfinished business on Saturday.
Both players are true icons of the sport, and are championing distinct causes that have fueled their drive and passion these past three weeks.
Naomi Osaka has been doing her bit for the Black Lives Matter campaign, and has dedicated each of her masks at the US Open to victims of racial injustice and oppression. Victoria Azarenka meanwhile is serving as an inspiration to mothers everywhere; she is determined to show the world that you can chase your dreams even after becoming a parent.
It took a monumental effort from both players to reach this stage. Azarenka's bid for a first-ever Major win over Serena Williams in the semifinal didn't start the way she would have hoped for. But the 2012 and 2013 runner-up summoned all of her grit to turn it around and make her first Slam final in seven years, with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 win.
A couple of hours before that Naomi Osaka and the sensational Jennifer Brady were involved in a ferocious battle, trading powerful blows for 2 hours 8 minutes. The enthralling match saw 70 winners being pounded against just 42 unforced errors, with only two breaks of serve throughout.
The 2018 champion managed to eke out the win by being just a little steadier in the decisive moments, but it could just as easily have gone the other way.
Naomi Osaka vs Victoria Azarenka head-to-head
Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka have crossed swords thrice in the past, with the Japanese leading the head-to-head 2-1.
Their very first meeting went Azarenka's way, with a lopsided 6-1, 6-1 scoreline. But that was back at the 2016 Australian Open, when the Belarusian was in peak form and Osaka was just coming through the ranks.
A lot has changed since then, as reflected in their subsequent showdowns. In 2018 when they met in Rome, Osaka was an established name; this time the Japanese blew Azarenka away 6-0, 6-3.
Their next and most recent meeting, at Roland Garros 2019, was highly competitive. Osaka edged Azarenka 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in what many believe was one of the best matches of the year.
The 2020 Western & Southern Open final could have seen their fourth meeting, but an injured Osaka gave Azarenka a walkover.
Naomi Osaka vs Victoria Azarenka prediction
Victoria Azarenka has got back the conviction in her game, which had gone missing the last few years due to her off-court troubles. She is back to playing her suffocating brand of baseline tennis; her blazing returns are painting the lines, and her immense foot speed is burning holes in the court.
Azarenka is now consistently returning with depth, which can certainly hurt Naomi Osaka on the second serve. That is an area Jennifer Brady failed to exploit in the semifinals.
The Belarusian is also moving brilliantly, using the full geometry of the court to stretch her opponents - something she showed in full measure over the last two sets against Serena Williams. Effortlessly changing the direction of the ball and sneaking in her down-the-line backhand at the slightest opportunity, the two-time US Open runner-up has been absolutely brilliant at turning defense into offense this past fortnight.
In some ways, Naomi Osaka will present a similar challenge to Azarenka as Serena Williams did in the semis. The ball will keep coming back hard, and the Belarusian will have to be quick to react; if she is even a step slow, Osaka will take full advantage.
The fourth seed is young and powerful, and is currently playing with steely focus. Osaka also moves considerably better than Serena, which could be an important factor in this face-off.
What has aided the Japanese in particular this fortnight is her pin-point accuracy; she has managed to keep the unforced error count low despite constantly going for big shots. That was especially evident in the semifinal against the aggressive Brady where Osaka blasted 35 winners but made just 17 unforced errors.
Naomi Osaka will also have the edge in the serve department against Azarenka, who can have her share of struggles with that shot. Besides, the World No. 9 has terrific composure under pressure and a fearless attitude; her flawless 2-0 record in Grand Slam finals is evidence enough of that.
While Victoria Azarenka won't be an easy opponent by any means, the odds seem to be stacked in favor of Naomi Osaka. But no matter who wins, the final has all the makings of a classic.
Prediction: Naomi Osaka to win in three sets.Published 11 Sep 2020, 15:40 IST