How it happened, US Open: Azarenka topples Serena; Osaka edges BradySep 11, 2020
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How it happened, US Open: Azarenka topples Serena; Osaka edges Brady
Victoria Azarenka notched her first major win in 11 attempts over Serena Williams, setting a final showdown with 2018 US Open champion Naomi Osaka.
Published Sep 11, 2020
In a pair of gripping semifinals, Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka emerged victorious to win their three-set clashes over Jennifer Brady and Serena Williams. The two were due to meet less than two weeks ago at Flushing Meadows, before Osaka was forced to pull out of their Western & Southern Open final with an injury.
Recap the exciting evening of play with our live blog below.
On the message she wants to send to fellow moms watching:
"Hopefully it inspires women to go after their dreams. I feel like you can't always identify yourself as just one thing. You have many things you can do in your life. Being a parent is to me, the most important thing in my life, but I'm a tennis player on the court, I'm a fighter on the court. I want to go after my personal dreams and inspire my child. I hope that women around the world know that they can do anything. Being a parent is the toughest thing, so once you can balance that, you can do anything."
On 2012 US Open final, and whether that memory of failing to serve out Serena crept in:
"Hell no, absolutely not. I was young, my ego was way too big. Now it's a little smaller, and the result's coming."
On reaching her first US Open final since 2013:
"It's been seven years? That's my favorite number, so I guess that it's meant to be. I'm very grateful for this opportunity, to be able to play such a champion in a semifinal."
From 1-6, 0-1, 30-40 down, Azarenka shows the incredible resolve that first propelled her to No. 1 and two majors in getting over the Serena hurdle at a Slam—fittingly serving it out on her own racquet after enduring heartbreaking defeats at the hands of Serena in the 2012 and 2013 finals on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
In the final, she’ll get 2018 champion Osaka, who withdrew prior to their Western & Southern Open title match just under two weeks ago with a left hamstring injury. Serena suffered just her sixth loss in 39 major semifinal appearances.
If there’s anything to take away from today’s semifinals, it’s a reminder of how sensational women’s tennis is on its own, a true testament to the vision the Original 9 had 50 years ago when they went out on their own.
Serena keeps pace, but Azarenka takes another step closer to her first major win over the 23-time Slam champion in 11 attempts. At 3-1, 30-30, Azarenka reacted with a fervent fist pump after finding a forehand winner. At the changeover, she left the court for a bathroom break.
The brief pause in play didn't impact Azarenka's momentum. Four points in, she broke for 2-0 and though Serena had a window at 30-30 in the following game, a missed forehand return prevented her from applying any further pressure. Azarenka closed with yet another clutch ace.
"Oh my God," says Serena as she walks to her player bench to have her left ankle examined. Coach Patrick Mouratoglou looks understandably concerned. Serena is granted a three-minute medical timeout to have it addressed and re-taped.
There may not be any fans in attendance, but these two champions are making up for the lack of crowd energy with their ball-striking and emotional releases. Azarenka had two looks to extend her lead to 5-2 and serve out the set, and though Serena held, it hardly mattered in the end. In a big game, Azarenka’s first ace couldn’t have come at a better time, and she carried her momentum to force a decider, with the benefiting of serving first.
Azarenka increased her first-serve percentage to 79, and with that, took a mountain of pressure off her back. She found 12 winners while hitting just one unforced error. Serena meanwhile, lost all eight of her second serve points.
Two deep returns down the middle resulted in two consecutive cross-court backhand winners for Azarenka to get the first break of the second set. She followed it up with her second successive love hold, and we suddenly have a very different match on our hands.
In a must hold situation, after Serena rocketed two successive winners to earn an early break point, Azarenka dug in to get on the board much earlier this time around. Will it lift her? Perhaps, but Serena won the point of the match in a grueling rally to close out the third game, showing her footwork and movement is here for the challenge at hand. Azarenka will now step to the line looking to hold in successive games for the first time tonight.
Serena dialed it up to 120 m.p.h. at one point on her serve, as Azarenka began sending more booming returns back. The Belarusian had a look at one break point at 1-4, but couldn’t convert, and a 40-0 lead in the ensuing game was ultimately wasted.
Besides the American being a couple notches above in their baseline exchanges, Azarenka has done a huge disservice to herself in making just 52 percent of her first serves. Williams hit 12 winners to 8 unforced errors, to Azarenza's four to 10 ratio.
Unsteady start from Azarenka, who tosses in two double faults to get broken in the opening game. Serena on the other hand, has been locked in from the start. The No. 3 seed recovered from 15-30 by making a handful of well struck first serves to successfully consolidate, and broke again when the two-time Australian Open champion mistimed a forehand.
Williams has never lost to Azarenka on the Grand Slam stage, winning three of their 10 major meetings on this very court. Azarenka is riding a 10-match win streak, following her triumph at "Cincinnati in New York" ahead of the US Open. Expectations are high based on their history here, and the match that preceded this blockbuster.
Once again Brady got the job done on her serve, this time to close the gap to 5-3. She'd need to pull off some magic to ruffle Osaka as the 22-year-old stepped up to serve for a spot in the final. The Japanese sensation got her first match point at 40-30 after a big inside-out forehand winner, and she'd quickly force a return error to take the match, 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-3.
"It means a lot to me," Osaka said of reaching her second career US Open final. "I kind of consider New York my second home. Even though there’s no people here it really suits me well."
Osaka had three break point chances at 4-1, but Brady held her nerve to stay in the match. While women's tennis sometimes doesn't rely heavily on service holds, these two have proved that trend wrong.
To her full credit, Brady has remained upbeat throughout even while she has a seemingly insurmountable mountain to climb.
Seemingly unaffected by the second set hiccup, Osaka served out the first game at love. She'd be the one to be more assertive, and pick up the first break for 3-1. Brady let her foot off the pedal just the tiniest amount and failed to challenge a call when facing her first break point—that was enough for the more experienced world No. 9 to take control.
After both held serve for the first seven games, Osaka would be the first to crack. They've have been playing big baseline tennis with limited errors, particularly Osaka who has hit just nine unforced errors so far.
Brady had to be more patient and put even more pressure on Osaka and she did just that in the eighth game. She'd get her second break point of the match at 4-3, 40-30 and won a 18-shot rally to secure the first break of the match for 5-3. Then she'd leap out to a 40-love lead and consolidate the set on her second set point.
At 2-1, Brady got a look at a deuce game, yet she didn’t get a look at another break point. Holding her composure after the tiebreak letdown, she'd continue to dominate in her services games and keep her nose out in front.
A tiebreak was exactly how this set of great serving had to end. Both players remained incredibly composed with Osaka laser-focused in getting the early lead, 3-1. A missed return from Brady gave Osaka a bigger lead for 4-1. The American then sent a routine forehand out and Osaka would run away with the tiebreak, 7-1.
Osaka made just four unforced errors in the entire set.
Neither player has been broken yet. At 3-3, Brady got her first break point opportunity, but missed the return and Osaka inched ahead 4-3.
With so few spectators, cameras had little trouble spotting Osaka’’s boyfriend YBN Cordae watching closely.
The holds kept going with Osaka becoming the first player this fortnight to win more than four games in a set against Brady.
Osaka set the tone by holding the first game at love. In the second game came a little bit of drama: Brady’s shoelaces broke which led to a brief delay for her to fix them before evening the match at 1-1. It might seem unusual, but Brady breaks her shoelaces all of the time thanks to her heavy sliding habit.
So far, the two have continued to trade holds with Osaka having a little bit more ease in hers.