Naomi Osaka, of Japan, holds up the championship trophy after defeating Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, in the women's singles final of the US Open tennis championships, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) Photo: AP/Frank Franklin II
tennis

Naomi Osaka wins 2nd U.S. Open title

49 Comments
By HOWARD FENDRICH

After one errant forehand in the first set of the U.S. Open final, Naomi Osaka looked at her coach in the mostly empty Arthur Ashe Stadium stands with palms up, as if to say, “What the heck is happening?”

In response to another wayward forehand against Victoria Azarenka seconds later, Osaka chucked her racket. It spun a bit and rattled against the court.

Surprisingly off-kilter in the early going Saturday, Osaka kept missing shots and digging herself a deficit. Until, suddenly, she lifted her game, and Azarenka couldn’t sustain her start. By the end, Osaka pulled away to a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 comeback victory for her second U.S. Open championship and third Grand Slam title overall.

“For me, I just thought it would be very embarrassing to lose this in an under an hour,” said Osaka, who laid down on her back on court after winning.

This, then, is what she told herself when things looked bleakest: “I just have to try as hard as I can and stop having a really bad attitude.”

It worked. A quarter-century had passed since a woman who lost the first set of a U.S. Open final wound up winning: In 1994, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario did it against Steffi Graf.

This one was a back-and-forth affair. Even after Osaka surged ahead 4-1 in the third set, the outcome was unclear. She held four break points in the next game — convert any of those, and she would have served for the win at 5-1 — but Azarenka didn’t flinch.

Azarenka held there, somehow, and broke to get to 4-3, then stood and stretched during the ensuing changeover.

But Osaka regained control, then covered her face when the final was over.

“I actually don't want to play you in more finals,” a smiling Osaka told Azarenka afterward. “I didn't enjoy that.”

Osaka, a 22-year-old born in Japan and now based in the United States, added to her trophies from the 2018 U.S. Open — earned with a brilliant performance in a memorably chaotic final against Serena Williams — and 2019 Australian Open.

The 23,000-plus seats in the main arena at Flushing Meadows were not entirely unclaimed, just mostly so — while fans were not allowed to attend because of the coronavirus pandemic, dozens of people who worked at the tournament attended — and the cavernous place was not entirely silent, just mostly so. One of the lucky few in the house: Osaka's boyfriend, rapper YBN Cordae.

“It’s not easy times in the world right now, so I’m very grateful for the opportunity to play in front of millions of people watching on TV,” Azarenka said. “Unfortunately, they’re not here.”

Certainly no thunderous applause or the cacophony of yells that normally would reverberate over and over and over again through the course of a Grand Slam final, accompanying the players’ introductions or preceding the first point or after the greatest of shots.

Instead, a polite smattering of claps from several hands marked such moments.

Osaka arrived for the match wearing a mask with the name of Tamir Rice, a Black 12-year-old boy killed by police in Ohio in 2014. At her other U.S. Open matches, Osaka honored other Black victims of violence: Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Philando Castile.

“The point," Osaka explained, “is to make people start talking.”

She has been at the forefront of efforts in tennis to bring attention to racial injustice. Last month, Osaka joined athletes in various sports by refusing to compete after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin — she said she wouldn’t participate in her semifinal at the Western & Southern Open, then decided to play after the tournament took a full day off in solidarity.

Osaka and her coach, Wim Fissette — who used to work with Azarenka — have said they think the off-court activism has helped her energy and mindset in matches.

The win over Azarenka, a 31-year-old from Belarus also seeking a third Grand Slam title but first in 7½ years, made Osaka 11-0 since tennis resumed after its hiatus because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Azarenka carried an 11-match winning streak of her own into Saturday, including a stirring three-set victory over Williams in the semifinals, stopping the American's bid for a 24th Grand Slam singles title.

Azarenka won the 2012 and 2013 Australian Opens and lost in the finals of the U.S. Open each of those years.

“I thought the third time was the charm,” Azarenka said, “but I guess I’ll have to try again.”

She led early against Osaka, getting a quick break with terrific returning, including a sturdy reply to a 119 mph serve to draw a netted forehand. Azarenka also displayed some enviable let-no-ball-by defense, stretching points until Osaka missed.

Osaka was making the sort of mistakes she avoided almost entirely in recent matches.

It seemed, in contrast, as if Azarenka couldn’t put a ball anywhere but where she wanted. She would race into position, always arrive on time, and strike deep groundstrokes to the corners. More often than not, points would end with a flub from Osaka, and the first set was over in a blink.

Azarenka broke early in the second set, too, to lead 2-0. The question shifted from “Who will win?” to “Might this be the most lopsided women’s final at the U.S. Open since the professional era began in 1968?”

No, Osaka quickly determined.

She broke back to get on even terms, then again to go ahead 4-3 in the second set when Azarenka’s increasing miscues led to a wide backhand.

Here’s how Osaka transformed the match: She stepped closer to the baseline, redirecting shots more quickly and forcefully. It didn’t help Azarenka that she didn’t maintain her form from the first set — who could have? — and began hitting the ball less stridently.

So much of this was about Osaka’s transformation from shaky to sure-footed. She had just five winners in the first set, 16 in the second. And talk about cleaning up her act: She went from 13 unforced errors to merely five.

In the third, Azarenka was the unsettled one, double-faulting to set up break points, then netting a forehand to close a 17-stroke exchange to fall behind 3-1.

She would not go quietly, but it was Osaka who would take the title.


More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.


49 Comments
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Congratulations Ms Osaka! You are a champion in many ways.

9 ( +16 / -7 )

Congratulations Naomi!

You are a champion both on and off the court, keep making your voice heard!

4 ( +17 / -13 )

“The point," Osaka explained, “is to make people start talking.”

Congratulations Naomi Chan, you are a champion with a conscience!!

May you win many more tournaments.

11 ( +19 / -8 )

The mark of a great champion! I didn't think that Naomi could come back with the way the first set went, but the fightback was full credit to her.

7 ( +12 / -5 )

Go on girl, keep showin' them...!

7 ( +13 / -6 )

Congratulations Naomi, wish you the best luck all season and beyond. you bring fresh air to all of us.

6 ( +12 / -6 )

Well done champ.You won and put the negative Nancys in their place.

2 ( +15 / -13 )

Great comeback win. Huge congrats!!

5 ( +10 / -5 )

Unbelievable!! Best comeback Iin tennis EVER!! Well done Naomi-chan, you are truly an inspiration for your tennis, and for taking a stand for minorities and against American police injustice. 3 Majors down... many, many more to come! Become the GOAT!

Theyll be dancing in the streets of Japan with joy all Sunday!

Naomi-chan said his name for justice - **Tamir Rice. Black lives matter. **

-2 ( +13 / -15 )

A success on all fronts, her messaging actually seems to have had an effect on and off the court, in both of her countries.

2 ( +8 / -6 )

Not a tennis fan, but good for her.. I like when she wins !!..

3 ( +8 / -5 )

Congratulations...nailed it.

2 ( +7 / -5 )

As a mixed blood Japanese, I’m very happy to see her win.

Like the rugby team, Japanese athletes are getting better with more diversity :)

5 ( +10 / -5 )

Theperson, I would say that professional Japanese tennis is quite diverse: Osaka, Daniel Taro, Ben McLachlan, Akira Santillan. And Im sure it will become even more diverse in the near future

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Good to see her mojo back and her winning again. I'll have to have a Cup Noodle to celebrate.

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

Well done Naomi, on number three!

I remember a time here at Japan Today when some people were implying that it was her old coach who had won her the first two grand slams, and that she’d made a mistake by dumping him. Lol! She hasn’t had the last laugh yet either.

-1 ( +6 / -7 )

Very well deserved trophy! Congratulations to Naomi Osaka and Japan!

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Congrats!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

No posts from the reactionary folks who blasted Osaka for her BLM support? No, just sound of crickets.

Grand Slam win every year in last three for Osaka. Pretty darn good.

5 ( +13 / -8 )

Timeon

Theres simply a lot of sports that Japan wouldn’t be able to compete in at the top level in general without having mixed Japanese and half’s like us.

Japan would not have an NBA player like Hashimura, sprinters, and probably wouldn’t have any rally good tennis players either. The Rugby team would be nowhere near as good. The Basketball Team would be awful I think.

6 ( +10 / -4 )

fxgai: I remember a time here at Japan Today when some people were implying that it was her old coach who had won her the first two grand slams, and that she’d made a mistake by dumping him.

I came on here to post the same thing. There's been a TON of very unwarranted negativity among posters on this site about Osaka. She's still young, she's still great, and there are going to be more Slams coming.

3 ( +9 / -6 )

Theres simply a lot of sports that Japan wouldn’t be able to compete in at the top level in general without having mixed Japanese and half’s like us.

It seems true. Japanese themselves have been ethnically intermixed for hundreds/thousands of years, so physical DNA is weak in pure race. Mixed Japanese players seem physically stronger than pure Japanese.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

Comebacks are always sweeter. Nice!

1 ( +4 / -3 )

I think it is valid to compare how a player relates to different coaches. Naomi had a lawsuit stemming from one of her early coaches claiming a share of her lifetime earnings. If all her coaches were like that she would be broke. So it made sense for her dad to do some interim stints.

The German coach who got her to number 1 knew a lot from working with Serena Williams and that is who Naomi beat to clinch the US Open. Her current coach used to work with Azarenka and wah-lah look who Naomi beat for the title. Maybe she gets more insider tips than her dad would have access to.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Good win, but speaking as someone who lives here, I can genuinely say this is not happening:

Theyll be dancing in the streets of Japan with joy all Sunday!

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Since becoming Japanese in 2019 she has certainly done well in the rankings and especially her 'endorsement' earnings. Ditching her US nationality was a very astute move.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

People who disagree with her supporting criminals just don't follow her anymore.

Those people are in the tiny minority. Naomi-chan is NOT supporting criminals. Do you know how old Tamir Rice was when he was gunned down? 12. A Black elementary school kid - not a criminal - gunned down by racist US police simply because he was playing with a toy pistol in a park as every boy in their life does. Naomi-chan, Lewis Hamilton and others have woken up so many in the world to this injustice and racism.

Thats why Naomi-chan says loud and clear : Black Lives Matter.

-1 ( +6 / -7 )

Theres simply a lot of sports that Japan wouldn’t be able to compete in at the top level in general without having mixed Japanese and half’s like us.

Japan would not have an NBA player like Hashimura, sprinters, and probably wouldn’t have any rally good tennis players either. The Rugby team would be nowhere near as good. The Basketball Team would be awful I think.

A simple online search shows the following full blooded Japanese individuals:

Kimiko Date, former Japanese professional tennis player. Reached a career-high ranking of 4th in the world in 1995. Reached the semi-finals of the  1994 Australian Open, the 1995 French Open and the 1996 Wimbledon Championships.

Ai Sugiyama, former Japanese professional tennis player. Her highest career world ranking was 8th, in 2004. Won six singles titles and 37 doubles titles.

There were several other legendary Japanese tennis players that took on some of the best in the world and beat them and performed admirably, including Ichiya Kumagae

Kei Nishikori, current Japanese professional tennis player. Ranked 4th in the world in 2015. Won 12 singles title including reaching the finals at the 2014 US Open, and defeated Rafael Nadal to earn a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics.

Yuki Koike, current Japanese sprinter. Ranked 11th in the world in 2019 in the 100 meters. One of three Japanese males to break the 10-second barrier in the 100 meter sprint.

Yoshihide Kiryu, the first Japanese person to break 10 seconds in the 100 meter sprint (and only one of four full-blooded Asian individuals to ever break that barrier), earned a silver medal in the 4 x 100 meter relay at the 2016 Olympics.

Yuta Watanabe, a two-way player for the Memphis Grizzlies G-League team, has put up very solid numbers and has impressed fans with hard play on both ends of the floor. Certainly has as much ability and talent than many current players on the NBA roster, so any lack of initiative on NBA executives and teams to scout for Japanese talent is more based on personal biases than innate ability of ethnic Japanese to play professional basketball in America.

Both the Japanese men's and women's basketball teams have played very well internationally. The women's team in particular, having placed 5th at the 1976 Olympics and 8th at the 2016 Olympics.

What was that about Japan not being able to compete at the top level in sports like sprinting, tennis, and basketball? And thumbs down is not an answer.

-3 ( +7 / -10 )

Try living in "her adopted country" as a minority, Black in particular. Not reading anything in the Japanese press about indiscriminate killing of it's citizen by those sworn to preserve and protect them. It's a shame when you can not just give a person their just due when they accomplish great things. Don't think it is all about the money!! Just my opinion!! In conclusion Great playing and Congratulation Naomi!!

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

Congrats Naomi-Osaka.

So proud of you. Keep going..

0 ( +4 / -4 )

She’s a very good tennis player and congrats to her. But let’s be honest, if she had grown up in Japan with The way they coach and train athletes here she wouldn’t be the player she is today.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

Since becoming Japanese in 2019 she has certainly done well in the rankings and especially her 'endorsement' earnings. Ditching her US nationality was a very astute move.

She didn't become Japanese, she has been Japanese since birth, and that status has never changed.

There's no reliable way without documentary proof to know whether she has actually "ditched" her US nationality. I don't believe she has ever spoken on the record about doing such a thing (come to that, it's not really anyone's business). Handily, there is some documentation of the process that is accessible to all: the US publishes lists of people who renounce US nationality,up to date to about the most recent quarter. Feel free to check her status there.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Highight of my day was Lakers moving on to the Western Conference Finals. I am not going to act like I care about Ladies tennis because I am sure most people here didn't either until Osaka's activism or as a rare Japanese athlete succeeding on a global scale.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Theyll be dancing in the streets of Japan with joy all Sunday!

Good win, but speaking as someone who lives here, I can genuinely say this is not happening:

Sorry to disappoint, but it actually has been happening.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tennis-usopen-osaka-japan-reax-idUSKBN26405O

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

@ Wipeout

She didn't become Japanese, she has been Japanese since birth, and that status has never changed.

No. You are Japanese if you hold a Japanese passport / become a citizen.

Naomi Osaka applied in 2019 to become a Japanese citizen: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/2019/10/10/tennis/naomi-osaka-japanese-citizenship-tokyo-olympics/

Whatever, she has done very well and deserves her success.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

The champion is setting high standards. As always, the world takes note of a champion on and off the field. Nice finals between two hugely gifted racket-wielders. Well played Victoria Azarenka and Naomi Osaka. Congratulations to the challenger and the winner.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Towingtheline, you are plain wrong, please do a brief search. She had double citizenship since birth, but according to the Japanese regulations, she had to choose one citizenship upon turning 20 years old. And she chose Japanese citizenship. She did not apply for citizenship, that’s a completely different process.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@towingtheline

No. You are Japanese if you hold a Japanese passport / become a citizen.

Passports are irrelevant, and and are only going to confuse you even further. Try not to think about them. They're simply travel documents/proof of nationality.

Osaka's most likely status as someone born in Japan to a Japanese and a foreign national is that her birth was registered (as required by Japanese law) within two weeks. At that point, she is officially entered in the records as a Japanese national, like any other Japanese newborn. As the child of a foreign parent, she had additional rights to another nationality, something with which Japan doesn't specifically concern itself and over which it has no legal authority or influence.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

@towingtheline

By the way, your link is not that useful: first, these choice of nationality stories are often presented sketchily, and are inaccurately reported (due to widespread lack of understanding) even when they are from Japanese sources like Kyodo. Second, you've reinterpreted what they actually did say, which wasn't flatly wrong, as something they didn't say, which was.

The story more or less correctly states that she "decided to choose Japanese over American nationality": you decided that means she "applied to become a Japanese citizen". It doesn't.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Naomi Osaka applied in 2019 to become a Japanese citizen: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/sports/2019/10/10/tennis/naomi-osaka-japanese-citizenship-tokyo-olympics/

Incorrect, Naomi Osaka had dual Nationality, but Japanese law requires her to only select one, she chose Japan so she can play in the Olympics. As noted The US publishes a quarterly list of US Citizens who renounce thier citizenships, while Naomi says she has taken administrative steps on the Japanese side, there is no public record of her giving up her US citizenship, which would then open another can of worms as she would.then need to apply for a visa to live and work in the US where she is currently residing.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

oldman_13 aka Fighto! aka etc. etc. etc. Today  04:46 pm JST

Theyll be dancing in the streets of Japan with joy all Sunday!

Good win, but speaking as someone who lives here, I can genuinely say this is not happening:

Sorry to disappoint, but it actually has been happening.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tennis-usopen-osaka-japan-reax-idUSKBN26405O

Nothing in that article suggests that people were “dancing in the streets of Japan with joy all Sunday!” One person ‘jumped for joy’ but that was it.

As I wrote, good win, but no need for the hyperbolic nonsense your identities produce.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Naomi chan, keep going up and up. You have become a role in my ways.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

oldman_13: "Kei Nishikori, current Japanese professional tennis player. Ranked 4th in the world in 2015."

What's he ranked now? Most of his bandwagon fans don't even comment on the site anymore since every year was "going to be his year" and never was. But hey, I DO know a couple of such fans who this morning sighed relief and said Osaka is Japanese again.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Well done Naomi, a true champion in every sense of the world. Continue to win win win

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Good for her. A true champion. Glad she speaks her mind and doesn't try to hide her feelings like pretty much every other Japanese athlete who is deathly afraid of offending someone. To think of it, I don't know a single Japanese athlete or celebrity who has ever said anything political. Its all about sponsors and not upsetting the apple cart.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Very impressive!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Osaka herself declared herself the other day to be a black woman, not a Japanese national or an American national.

Why does anyone actually care what their government bureaucracies think she is?

She is a person living on earth, that’s all that matters.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Hopefully, Naomi will use her tennis platform to support all people scarred by violent acts.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Brilliant - Very happy I pulled myself out of bed to watch the final set.

Not so brilliant to see (as usual) @smithinjapan has to put a negative angle on it - or something related to it.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

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