Victoria Azarenka will take on Naomi Osaka in the women's final at US Open. AP
When tennis resumed last month from a five-month hiatus prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, it was impossible to know exactly what to expect. Turns out Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka have been far and away the two best women in the sport, which is why they will face each other in the US Open final.
Both used to be ranked No. 1; both already own two Grand Slam titles. Osaka is 10-0 since the sport returned. Azarenka lost her very first match back but has reeled off 11 consecutive victories since, capped by a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 elimination of Serena Williams in the semi-finals.
Osaka and Azarenka were supposed to meet in the final of the Western & Southern Open two weeks ago — that tournament was moved from its usual home in Cincinnati to Flushing Meadows as part of a two-event “controlled environment” to limit travel during the pandemic — but Osaka withdrew because of an injured left hamstring.
That leg hasn’t hampered her during the US Open, which she won in 2018, then followed up with a title at the 2019 Australian Open.
Osaka and Azarenka both have been playing clean tennis from the baseline. Osaka — whose coach used to work with Azarenka — relies mainly on her big forehand; Azarenka’s top stroke is her backhand. One intriguing element should be Osaka’s serving against Azarenka’s returning. Osaka ranks No. 2 in the 128-woman field by winning 93% of her service games, 65 of 70; Azarenka ranks No. 2 by winning 55% of her return games, 31 of 56.
(with inputs from AP)