Naomi Osaka is once again a champion in Flushing, New York. She defeated Belarusian Victoria Azarenka in three sets, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, to win her second US Open title in three years, and the third major of her young career.
Azarenka's dominance in that first set cannot be overstated. In just 27 minutes, she had taken the first set against a player eight years her junior, who was just two years removed from last winning this tournament. Her ability to locate her returns seemingly wherever she wanted to visibly frustrated Osaka, and it looked like an approach the 22-year-old just had no answer for. This even spilled into the second set early, but young star quickly adjusted herself to make the comeback.
"I thought it would be very embarrassing to lose in under an hour," she said of what inspired her comeback after the match. "So I just had to try as hard as I can, and stop having a bad attitude."
Once Osaka woke up from her self-described bad attitude, it seemed like there was no chance for Vika to storm back. Yes, both players were making what appeared to be nerve-induced mistakes, but the energy that had Osaka playing on her back heels was no longer there for Azarenka after her opponent was able to take four straight games in the second set to mount her comeback.
While the circumstances surrounding this tournament -- the coronavirus pandemic forcing this whole event to be played without spectators -- were history-making on their own, Osaka was able to make some history on the court with her comeback victory. Not since 1994 has a player comeback to win a US Open women's final after losing the first set -- Arantxa Sánchez Vicario came back after losing the first set 6-1 to beat Steffi Graf. Compared to her 2018 US Open win, Osaka accomplished this with a lot fewer spectators, a lot less referee involvement, but arguably a lot more fight than the last time she took center court at Arthur Ashe Stadium for the final. But even with the fierceness of her battle in the final, she made sure she celebrated safely after taking match point.
As for Azarenka, even though she doesn't go home with the championship trophy itself, this was still a remarkable moment for her career. Her ability to go through four straight three-set matches in order to fight her way to this final was impressive in its own right, but taking Osaka as far as she was able to made this run even more impressive. It's evidence that though the hype as tennis's next big star is no longer there, her career is far from over.