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2018 US Open

Osaka reconquers the US Open

He defeated Azarenka in the US Open final. It is her second Flushing Meadows title and the third Grand Slam title of her career.

Naomi Osaka has recognized that the pressure of seeing herself number one in the world at 21 years old could have her. In just three months he won the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open and soared to the top. She went up too fast too soon and could not digest the daily bumps that followed. She had to learn to negotiate the pressure, and if the final of this US Open is any indication, she is not going astray. After a devastating start from Victoria Azarenka, Osaka managed to recover to lift her second crown at Flushing Meadows, the third great of her career (1-6, 6-3, and 6-3).

The contrast between the two victories could not be greater. By game and by scenario. When it won its first US Open, Osaka had to put up with boos from more than 20,000 people. They were not for her but for Carlos Ramos, the chair judge with whom Serena Williams did not stop arguing all night. And why not say it, also for the result. They had come there to see Serena conquer her 24th Grand Slam title, and not a 20-year-old win her first, as much as her game screamed that it was only the first of many.

Osaka, who had beaten her idol on the first big night of her career (she and her sister started playing tennis inspired by the Williamses), ended up crying in a ceremony that didn’t end quickly enough for anyone. Even Serena had to ask for respect for the champion. Faced with that scene, that cavernous pavilion that Arthur Ashe has become with the pandemic. There were no boos to divert the spotlight from his game, but neither did anyone other than his team and the virtual seats, who appreciated how he knew how to lift the final against Victoria Azarenka.

The Belarusian came out as if she hadn’t played a Grand Slam final in seven years, the same years that have passed since she was the last number one in the world. If Osaka’s aggressiveness is in the hits, Azarenka’s is transmitted in the legs, in her way of positioning herself to hit and entering the court. The hunger of those who have spent more than a year without winning a match and more than four without winning a tournament came out. Even doing it in Cincinnati two weeks ago … Because Osaka couldn’t play the final.

The Japanese preferred to erase herself from that final because she did not want some discomfort in her left thigh to go further. That is why he has played the entire tournament with a strong bandage in the area, although he has not been a scare: he has not lost the tic of hitting himself with his fist on that same thigh to cheer up before subtracting. Osaka did not play that final and was late to this one, but the 6-1 of the first set was mainly due to Azarenka, who did not stop moving her and put pressure on a strangely shaky serve.

Osaka goes down 6-1 and 2-0 down in the second set before showing signs of reaching the final, but her awakening was overwhelming. The Japanese began to display a range of winners and tight shots that overwhelmed Azarenka. It is not that she could not answer them, it is that in many there was not even room for an answer. After all, the second run ended up being just as uneven as the first.

Osaka’s ball crossed very fast and precise but he also found the patience to work the points, wait for the moment, and attack, something that he had lacked in a first set in which he wanted to get up too fast. This time, Naomi Osaka knew how to deal with the pressure to lift a final that in the first 25 minutes seemed lost.

Osaka traveled to the tournament with seven face masks in her suitcase, each bearing the name of a victim of racism and police brutality in the United States whom she wanted to honor. Breonna Taylor. Elijah McClain. Ahmad Arbery. Trayvon Martin. George Floyd. Philando Castile. Tamir Rice. Two weeks later, she says goodbye to the US Open with a crown and a promise kept

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