For 22-year old Japanese sensation, Naomi Osaka, Saturday’s dashing of Victoria Azrenka’s dream of claiming her second U.S. Open title is a confirmation of her status as a Tennis leading light, both on and off the court.
The game, which was played at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre lacked the usual buzz around the stands, no thanks to the strict adherence to Covid-19 protocols, that did not take the shine away from the game which eventually ended at 1-66-36-3 in favour of Osaka.
As Osaka walked off with a third Grand Slam title, Azarenka was denied a U.S. Open crown for a third time having also finished runner-up in 2012 and 2013.
Still it was a remarkable and unexpected run for the 31-year-old Belarusian, who reached her first major final in seven years.
It was the second time in two weeks Azarenka, twice a winner at the Australian Open, and Osaka had set up a final showdown. The pair had been set to meet in the Western and Southern Open final on Aug. 29 until Osaka withdrew due to a hamstring injury.
“I actually don’t want to play you in more finals,” Osaka told Azarenka with a smile during the victory ceremony.
“I didn’t really enjoy that.
“That was a really tough match for me.
“And yes, really inspiring for me because I used to watch you play here when I was younger so just to have the opportunity to play you is really great and I learned a lot.”
The presentation ceremony showed the precautions everyone has had to take during the COVID-19 era, with the two finalists having to pick up their respective prizes themselves from a table placed on court, while everyone stood socially distant for the obligatory photocall.
As she has done in every match over the past fortnight, Osaka appeared on court with her left thigh strapped and a facemask with the name of a Black American victim of police brutality or racial injustice.
For the final it was Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy shot by police in 2014 while playing with a toy gun in a playgound.
Osaka had already replaced Serena Williams as top earner and now has assumed the leadership mantle that goes with it.
With the United States rocked by unrest following the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, just three weeks ago by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Osaka had withdrawn from her semi-final at the Western and Southern Open in protest.