This match is a repeat of the final from three weeks ago that never happened. Osaka vs Azarenka was supposed to have been played at this very site in the lead up tournament to this Grand Slam, but Osaka withdrew with a hamstring injury. Now we get to see it. They’ve both won two majors but their careers couldn’t be more different.
It’s been a four-year trek for Azarenka to arrive at this moment. Having a baby, a split from the father, early round losses and non-appearances in Slams because of custody hearings. The former world number one is back in a big final and in the kind of form she hasn’t seen in years.
Four years ago Osaka was just beginning her Grand Slam career with a 3rdround loss at the Australian Open as an eighteen year old to ironically Azarenka. Since then she also has risen to world number one. In a tournament full of withdrawals and upsets this is a marquee match up.
Why Azarenka will win
The 31 year old has won the Australian Open twice; she knows how to win a major. The win over Serena in a three set semi should steel her for what’s to come. Azarenka hasn’t had to perform under such pressure in four years, yet she came through, it’s the sign of a Champion. Her movement and serve are as crisp as ever. She’ll need them both, as Osaka will try to dominate the point.
If Azarenka can turn defense into offense she wins.
Why Osaka will win
Raw power. Osaka hit 35 winners in her semi win and I’d say has a slim advantage in this area. This will be a slugfest and if Azarenka doesn’t hold her own the Osaka power will be a huge problem for her. This match will be won or lost on Osaka’s terms, if she keeps the power between the lines she wins, if she doesn’t Azarenka wins. It’s as simple as that.
Destiny and sports never really go together, the fairytale can always derail at the last moment. Yet Azarenka has set herself up for this comeback perfectly, all she needs is one more great match, because that’s what it will take.
Azarenka has already lost two US Open finals (’12 Serena, ’13 Serena) so will be looking to win in New York for the first time. This could come down to a battle of wills, which always makes for the best tennis. I think a lot of the rallies will look the same but expect Azarenka to do a touch more running, but the player hitting more second serves will be in trouble, so first serve percentage will be key for both. Head to head Osaka leads 2-1 but I’d discount these. I’d be surprised it we don’t go three sets here.
In the preview for the tournament I said I wouldn’t be surprised if we had a bolter win this and I mentioned Azarenka, if only I put some money on that. I think the longer this match drags on she will win the mental game and she will be the 2020 US Open Champion, it’s her destiny.