Love at (second) sight. pic.twitter.com/4uTPeRSQsm— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 12, 2020
When Naomi Osaka lost the first set of her U.S. Open final against Victoria Azarenka, the televison and the Internet lit up with the fact that no woman had come back to win the title after losing the first set since 1994. What didn't light up the television and the Internet is the fact that that is a really sad statistic.
Apparently, Osaka thought it was sad, too, because--after dropping that first set 1-6 to an almost perfect Azarenka, the world number 4 went about the task of putting her game back together--the way real champions do. She won the second set 6-3, and then the match became really interesting.
Osaka's precision became more deadly, and Azarenka's waned, as more and more errors crept in. Down 1-4, 15-40, the two-time Australian Open champion and two-time U.S. Open finalist was hanging on by a thread. But she worked her way out of that hole in dramatic fashion, saving three break points. At 2-4, Azarenka again looked competitive. When she broke Osaka to go up 3-4, it appeared that the plot was taking a strong twist.
But that was as far as it went for Azarenka. Osaka broke back, then served successfully for the match, which she claimed, at 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Naomi Osaka is the first player since Jennifer Capriati to win the first three major finals she contested. She talks a lot about her attitude.In fact, she credited her second set comeback with having adjusted her attitude.
The quality of this final was a wonderful continuation of the quality we saw in both of the semifinals. All four players gave everything they had--Osaka and Azarenka did it twice. The only thing that brought the occasion down was the quality of the commentating, which--though it's hard to believe--was even worse than the usual ESPN commentating. I don't care for most of the commentary on either ESPN or Tennis Channel (there are notable exceptions), but today felt like a new low.
Osaka is now a three-time major champion, and two of those championships--both at the U.S. Open--were won under unusual conditions. None of that seems to especially affect her; in the long run, it could fortify her ability to focus on the task at hand.
And while playing expert tennis was the task at hand during the last two weeks, the champion also used her persona to keep in front of the public the names of black U.S. citizens killed by the police. For every one of her matches, she wore a mask with the name of a victim. Osaka packed seven masks and was able to wear every one of them. The image of her entering the court wearing a black mask with a victim's name printed on it will endure as an expression of a champion bringing her very best, not only to the court, but to the fragile, broken cultural landscape in which we are all currently forced to live.