When tennis resumed final month from a five-month hiatus prompted by the coronavirus outbreak, it was unimaginable to know precisely what to anticipate.
Turns out Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka have been far and away the 2 finest ladies in the game, which is why they are going to face one another Saturday in the U.S. Open remaining.
“Honestly,” Osaka mentioned, “like, no one remembers anyone but the winner.”
She is 10-0 for the reason that sport returned.
Azarenka misplaced her very first match again however has reeled off 11 consecutive victories since, capped by a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 elimination of Serena Williams in the semifinals Thursday evening.
Osaka and Azarenka had been supposed to fulfill in the ultimate of the Western & Southern Open two weeks in the past — that match was moved from its normal dwelling in Ohio to Flushing Meadows as a part of a two-event “controlled environment” to restrict journey in the course of the pandemic — however Osaka withdrew due to an injured left hamstring.
That hasn’t hampered her in the course of the U.S. Open, which she gained in 2018, then adopted up with a title on the 2019 Australian Open.
Osaka and Azarenka both have been enjoying clear tennis from the baseline. Osaka — whose coach used to work with Azarenka — depends primarily on her huge forehand; Azarenka’s prime stroke is her backhand.
One intriguing factor ought to be Osaka’s serving in opposition to Azarenka’s returning. Osaka ranks No. 2 in the 128-woman area by successful 93% of her service video games, 65 of 70; Azarenka ranks No. 2 by successful 55% of her return video games, 31 of 56.
“It’s going to be an amazing final. I hope it will be,” Azarenka mentioned. “I’ll have fun.”
In some methods, Osaka proper now’s the place Azarenka was almost a decade in the past: early 20s, already been ranked No. 1, already a two-time Grand Slam champion.
“Her success came pretty quick, right? Suddenly she came from, like, a very promising player to this extremely successful player. Won two Slams in a row, was thinking maybe three or four in a row. She was winning almost everything” mentioned Osaka’s coach, Wim Fissette, who used to work with Azarenka. “That’s obviously a moment that you’re young and you feel like maybe you’re invincible, unbeatable. Maybe you take things a little bit for granted. I think that could be a big mistake because it sets the expectations too high.”
On Saturday, Osaka, 22, will be trying to collect her third championship from the past seven major tournaments — and Azarenka, who is 31, will be in her first Slam title match since 2013 in New York. She won the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013 and lost to Williams in the U.S. Open finals both years.
Speaking about those long ago days, Azarenka described herself this way: “I was young. My ego was way too big.”
Asked to elaborate, she said, “When you’re coming up from kind of nothing, then you become a No. 1 player in the world, sometimes you can start to think you’re invincible and that you’re better than everybody. And it’s not true. So the ego starts to grow. It’s very hurtful when it gets damaged. So instead of getting the ego damaged, I tried to remove that and learn from my mistakes … realizing, maturing, that being a tennis player doesn’t make you better or worse than anybody else, that you’re still human.”
She left the tour for a bit to become a mother; her 3-year-old son, Leo, has been staying with her at a private home on Long Island during these past two tournaments. There have been some rough patches on court recently, including going a calendar year without a match win until her current streak.
“She’s had a lot of, I would say, downs in her career. She started on a lot of highs,” said Williams, a good friend of Azarenka’s. “I don’t know how she stayed positive, to be honest. That’s a good lesson for all of us. No matter what, you’ve just got to keep going. Hopefully she keeps living her dream.”
Fight in opposition to Coronavirus: Full protection