Saturday, September 12, 2020

Osaka's Comeback Earns Her a Second US Open Title; Nine Americans Begin Delayed Clay Season at Italian Open; Hanfmann Advances to ATP Final

©Colette Lewis 2020--

Down 1-6, 0-2 in Saturday's US Open final, Naomi Osaka was on the verge of being blown out by a resurgent Victoria Azarenka. But the 22-year-old was able to dig deep, elevate her game and hold on to that new standard to claim her second US Open title with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 decision. 

Osaka had played poorly in the opening set, with 13 unforced errors and just five winners, while Azarenka was serving remarkably well, missing just one of 16 first serves in the set for a first serve percentage of 94.

Azarenka held and broke to start the second set, but she could not consolidate that break, and Osaka began to rebalance the errors-winners ledger, with 16 winners and just five unforced errors as she closed out the second set with a third break of Azarenka after a five-deuce game.

Osaka was asked what she was thinking after she went down a break in the second set.

"I think in the first set I was so nervous, I wasn't moving my feet," said the No. 4 seed.  "I felt like I was not playing -- not that I expect myself to play 100%, but it would be nice if I could even play, like, 70%. But, yeah, I just felt like I was too much in my own head. Then in the second set, of course I was down early, which really didn't help me out. I just thought to myself to be positive, don't lose 6-1, 6-0, hopefully give her a slight run for her money."

Azarenka said she felt several changes in the momentum during the match, beginning with that third game of the second set. 

"I think the break, maybe in the beginning of the second set, she started to play better, caught a few lines, had some really good shots," said Azarenka, who, like Osaka, was competing for her third slam singles title.  "She was being really aggressive. I don't think there was only one. I think in the third set also I started to come back and stuff. It was a lot of tight moments where, you know, didn't work out for me today."

Osaka took a 4-1 lead in the third set, and had four opportunities to go up 5-1, only to have Azarenka save that game, then break Osaka in the next game to get back on serve. But serving at 3-4, Azarenka was broken again, giving Osaka a chance to serve for the match. Although she got only one first serve in, Osaka's second serve was solid enough, keeping Azarenka from attacking from the first ball. Osaka took a 40-15 lead, failed to convert the first match point, but survived a long, tense and well-played rally to earn the title.

Osaka celebrated by lying on the court and looking up at the sky. She was asked what her thoughts were in that moment:

"Yeah, I mean, I was thinking about all the times I've watched the great players sort of collapse onto the ground and look up into the sky. I've always wanted to see what they saw. For me, it was really an incredible moment. I'm really glad I did it."

Osaka is the first woman to win a US Open title from a set down since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in 1994 and the first woman to win a third slam title before the age of 23 since Maria Sharapova. She was non-committal about whether she would be playing the French Open, which begins in two weeks. 

With the clay season already underway in Europe, Americans have been heading there to prepare for the French Open, and next week's Italian Open. 

Seven American women have received entry into the main draw in Rome: Sofia Kenin[3], Alison Riske[13], Amanda Anisimova, Venus Williams[WC], Sloane Stephens, Coco Gauff and Bernarda Pera.

Two US men are in the main draw of the Italian Open: Taylor Fritz and Sam Querrey. Tennys Sandgren is the top seed in qualifying and had a bye today; Bradley Klahn won his first round qualifying match and will need two more victories to reach the main draw.

Former University of Southern California All-American Yannick Hanfmann has advanced to the second ATP final of his career at the Generali Open  in Austria, with a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(5) win over Laslo Djere of Serbia. The 28-year-old from Germany, a qualifier this week, will face unseeded Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia in Sunday's final. Hanfmann previously reached an ATP final in Gstaad in 2017. For more on Hanfmann's win over Djere today, see this article from the ATP website.