Azarenka and Osaka have unfinished business at U.S. Open final

Azarenka and Osaka are unbeaten since the resumption of tennis after a lengthy shutdown due to COVID-19 but that run will end for one of them on Saturday.

Naomi Osaka adjusts her mask after winning the U.S. Open semifinal.   -  AP

Victoria Azarenka and Naomi Osaka were set for a title clash two weeks back before the Japanese withdrew due to injury but the former world number ones will have another chance to establish supremacy during Saturday's U.S. Open women's singles final.

Osaka trusting in new mindset in hunt for ‘shiny little trophy’  

A left hamstring injury forced the 22-year-old Osaka to pull out from the final of the Western & Southern Open, which was played at the Grand Slam venue at Flushing Meadows this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Very excited about that (final). I'm as excited as I was last time,” Azarenka told reporters after taking down Serena Williams in Thursday's semifinal at the Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Azarenka digs deep to beat Serena, enters US Open final  

“I'm sure this time we're going to get to play and it's going to be a great match. I think it's going to be an amazing final, I hope it will be. I'll have fun.”

NAOMI OSAKA

Age: 22

WTA ranking: 9 (Highest ranking: 1) | Grand Slam titles: 2 (Australian Open 2019; U.S. Open 2018) |

Career WTA titles: 5 | 2019 U.S. Open performance: Fourth round | Best U.S. Open performance: Winner (2018)

ROAD TO FINAL: First round: Misaki Doi (Japan) 6-2 5-7 6-2 | Second round: Camila Giorgi (Italy) 6-1 6-2 | Third round: Marta Kostyuk (Ukraine) 6-3 6-7(4) 6-2 | Fourth round: 14-Anett Kontaveit (Estonia) 6-3 6-4 | Quarterfinal: Shelby Rogers (U.S.) 6-3 6-4 | Semifinal: 28-Jennifer Brady (U.S.) 7-6(1) 3-6 6-3

There has been no lack of fun for Azarenka at this year's U.S. Open even without the presence of fans as she has smiled and bobbed her head along to music during changeovers while maintaining a high intensity on the court.

On the other hand, Osaka, who has a 2-1 lead over Azarenka in completed matches, has displayed laser-sharp focus, perpetuated by her activism for the Black Lives Matter protests.

Azarenka clobbers Mertens to set up Serena showdown in US Open  

During the last two weeks, she has walked out on the court for each of her matches wearing a different facemask carrying the name of a Black American to highlight racial injustice in the United States.

“I do think it's a very big motivating factor for me just to try to, like, get the names out to as many people as I can,” she said after Thursday's win.

“So I'm not sure if that's giving me extra power. Definitely I want more people to talk about it.”

Azarenka and Osaka are unbeaten since the resumption of tennis after a lengthy shutdown due to COVID-19 but that run will end for one of them on Saturday.

VICTORIA AZARENKA

Age: 31

WTA ranking: 27 (Highest ranking: 1) | Grand Slam titles: 2 (Australian Open 2012, 2013) | Career WTA titles: 21 | 2019 U.S. Open performance: First round | Best U.S. Open performance: Runner-up (2012, 2013)

ROAD TO FINAL

First round: Barbara Haas (Austria) 6-1 6-2 | Second round: 5-Aryna Sabalenka (Belarus) 6-1 6-3 | Third round: Iga Swiatek (Poland) 6-4 6-2 | Fourth round: 20-Karolina Muchova (Czech Republic) 5-7 6-1 6-4 | Quarterfinal: 16-Elise Mertens (Belgium) 6-1 6-0 | Semifinal: 3-Serena Williams (U.S.) 1-6 6-3 6-3

Both players have repeatedly spoken about approaching games with a new mindset at this year's U.S. Open and Osaka was expecting a tough final.

“She seems really confident now. She's moving well,” the Japanese said of her opponent, who picked up her first win of the year at the Western & Southern Open.

Victoria Azarenka tosses the ball as she prepares to serve during a match at the U.S. Open.   -  AP

 

Azarenka, who is nine years older than Osaka, won her two Grand Slam titles at the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013 - the same years she finished runner-up at the U.S. Open to Williams.

The Japanese, who moved to the U.S. as a three-year-old, has also won the same number of major titles - the first at Flushing Meadows in 2018 and a second consecutive Grand Slam in Melbourne the following year.

“She's a very, very powerful player. She's a great champion,” Azarenka said of Osaka. “She's won two already. Aren't we both looking for a third one?”

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