Naomi Osaka has won her second US Open and third grand slam title with a remarkable comeback to beat Victoria Azarenka in New York.
The fourth seed was way off the pace as she dropped the first set 6-1 in Saturday’s final at Flushing Meadows.
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However the Japanese star found her footing to win the second and third sets, both 6-3.
Osaka is the first woman since 1994 to win the US Open final after dropping the first set.
With the hardcourt major being staged without any fans in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Japanese fourth seed did not let the unusual circumstances distract her as she produced a battling performance to win her third grand slam title.
Azarenka dominated early, cruising to a 6-1 win in the first set and breaking Osaka early in the second set.
Down 30-40 and facing a 3-0 hole, Osaka broke Azarenka back and surged ahead to even the match with a 6-3 second set win.
Osaka scored a key break early in the third set to move ahead 2-1, but Azarenka was poised to break her right back when she won the next game’s first three points.
Osaka saved three break points, then finished Azarenka off to stay on top.
Azarenka succeeded in breaking Osaka two games later, but Osaka responded with a break of her own, then served for the championship.
Fans and commentators took to social media in awe of Osaka’s ‘crazy’ comeback.
OSAKA!!! What a comeback. 3rd grand slam. Superstar. https://t.co/k8Q0ohUFHH— Eric Hubbs (@BarstoolHubbs) September 12, 2020
Osaka, wow. What a comeback— Chris Herring (@Herring_NBA) September 12, 2020
this is one insane final set... crazy amount of break points but osaka will serve for it at 5-3 #USOpen— Matthias Lee (@ml_matthias) September 12, 2020
Osaka showing crazy heart to pull that out. Nuts that she's still so young— millenihilist (@Not_Peter_Curry) September 12, 2020
Last set was crazy. Congrats to Osaka on number 3 https://t.co/kulTK3cE5N— Davidson Chu (@dchu215) September 12, 2020
I can’t believe Naomi Osaka is only 22. So excited to see what the rest of her career will bring. https://t.co/10VTTaeo2F— Ella Brockway (@ellabrockway) September 12, 2020
naomi osaka is amazing oh my god— aylin (@aylinizzle) September 12, 2020
Victoria Azarenka’s US Open final woes
Azarenka is now 0-3 in US Open finals, all in three sets.
She lost to Serena Williams in both the 2012 and 2013 final.
Still it was a remarkable and unexpected run for the 31-year-old Belarusian, who was playing in her first major final in seven years.
Osaka is 11-0 since she returned to the sport following a five-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Firstly I want to congratulate Vika,” said Osaka. “I actually don’t want to play you in more finals because I didn't really enjoy that, that was a really tough match for me.”
Asked how she turned the match around, the 22-year-old added: “I just thought it would be very embarrassing to lose in under an hour so I just have to try and stop having a really bad attitude.”
Also the runner-up in 2012 and 2013, Azarenka said: “I thought the third time was a charm but I guess I'll have to try again. Congratulations to Naomi, it's been an incredible two weeks for you. I hope we can meet in some more finals again.
“I want to thank my team for sticking with me and believing in me.
“We're going to have some more fun over the next few weeks. It's been a long road getting here but this was fun.”
Osaka, a 22-year-old born in Japan and now based in the United States, added to her trophies from the 2018 US Open - earned with a brilliant performance in a memorably chaotic final against Serena Williams - and 2019 Australian Open.
Osaka stepped onto the court wearing a black mask with the name of Tamir Rice, a Black 12-year-old boy killed by police in Ohio in 2014.
She arrived in New York with seven masks bearing the names of Black victims of violence and wore a different one for each match, honouring Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Philando Castile.
She has been at the forefront of efforts in tennis to bring awareness to racial injustice in the United States.
Osaka and her coach have said they think the off-court activism has helped her energy and mindset in matches.