Naomi Osaka.
Naomi Osaka.
AFP

New York

Victoria Azarenka of Belarus continued to make the most of what is, in essence, her second career. She pulled off a dramatic 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 against her long time rival Serena Williams to set up the 2020 US Open women final showdown against former champion Naomi Osaka.

The youngest player to ever win the title, Osaka who registered a 7-6, 3-6, 6-3 win over Jennifer Brady, at the Flushing Meadows on Thursday.

Williams was also seeking an Open era-best seventh title in New York, which would have snapped a deadlock with Chris Evert.

Azarenka moves on to face No. 4 seed Naomi Osaka in the title match on Saturday in Flushing Meadows.

It was sweet revenge for the 31-year-old Azarenka, who came up short against her friend Williams in both the 2012 and 2013 US Open finals. In 10 previous encounters, she had never beaten Williams at a major.

“I’m so grateful to be able to play such a champion in the semifinals,” said the two-time Grand Slam titlist, who’s into a major final for the first time in seven years. “On the road to the final, you have to beat the best players, and definitely today was that day.”

“I dug myself in a big hole, she dug me in a big hole in the first set,” Azarenka added. “I had to climb my way out of there, one by one. I’m very happy that I was able to turn it around.”

Azarenka’s serve would let her down in the opening set of this much-anticipated matchup of super-moms, both former No. 1s, as Williams surged ahead with a pair of breaks for 4-0. She would add another to close out the set in a speedy 34 minutes. Azarenka landed just 15 of 29 first serves in the stanza, to go along with four double faults. She had dropped just one set en route to semifinal—her most effective run to reach this stage of a Slam since the 2016 Australian Open.

Azarenka, ranked No. 27, her highest spot since returning to the tour from maternity leave in 2017, has long had one of the top return games in the sport. With Williams serving at 2-all, 15-40 in the second set, a re-energized Azarenka hammered a crosscourt backhand winner to grab her first break of the match. Another service break in the ninth game would send the contest to a decisive third set. Osaka owns a 2-1 edge over the Belarusian. They were supposed to face off in the Western & Southern Open final two weeks ago, however, Osaka withdrew with a left thigh injury.

Playing full-tilt tennis at the peak of their powers, Naomi Osaka and Jennifer Brady fought tooth-and-nail through three tense sets, trading booming serves and power strokes in Arthur Ashe Stadium, before Osaka finally pulled away to secure a 7-6, 3-6, 6-3 triumph to book a spot in her third Grand Slam final. Osaka, who has now won three three-setters at the 2020 US Open, earns a spot in the title match for the second time in three years in New York.

“It means a lot for me,” said Osaka. “I kind of consider New York my second home. I really love the atmosphere, even though sadly there’s no people here, I really feel this court really suits me well.”

In a battle of booming serves, fast-flying forehands and barely perceptible windows of opportunity, the No.4 seed Osaka stood a smidge taller than Brady in a crisply played opening set that featured no breaks of serve. The 2018 US Open champion eventually came through a lopsided tiebreaker to take a one set to love lead.

Unseeded duo Mate Pavic of Croatia and Bruno Soares of Brazil defeated No. 8 seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Nikola Mektic of Croatia, 7-5, 6-3, to capture the 2020 US Open men’s doubles title. This is the second US Open title in men’s doubles for Soares and the first for Pavic.

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