Naomi Osaka versus Victoria Azarenka is the final we all deserve. No, really—they were supposed to clash for the Western & Southern Open title two weeks ago before Osaka withdrew with a hamstring injury (that doesn't appear to be serious).
On Saturday, these two humongous hitters will each vie for their third career Grand Slam singles title. Azarenka is back in the US Open final for the first time since 2013, while Osaka is just two years removed from her maiden major title in New York. Both were simply brilliant in their thrilling three-set semifinal victories, and this match has all the makings of a classic. Osaka owns a 2-1 head-to-head advantage, and has won their past two matches, most recently a 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory in the 2019 French Open second round.
The oddsmakers list Osaka as a slight (-160) favorite, probably because she has never lost at a major once reaching the quarterfinal stage. But Azarenka appears to be in the best headspace of her career. She’s been having a blast on the court.
“It feels more fun this year, more fulfilling, more pleasant for me,” the world No. 27 said. “It feels nice, nicer.”
This match will likely come down to who serves better, because it’s almost impossible to hit groundstrokes any cleaner than Osaka and Azarenka are right now. Both players inflict massive damage on their second-serve return. Azarenka owns a slightly better backhand, while Osaka has the forehand-to-forehand advantage.
Azarenka’s down-the-line backhand has been one of the best shots of the tournament:
To combat this power and precision, Osaka will need to redirect her forehand hard and crosscourt to Azarenka’s forehand, much like this shot from their 2019 French Open encounter. The only problem is that it’s an insanely difficult shot to consistently execute.
Here, Osaka hits another sharp angle winner against Jennifer Brady. If that shot is dialed in, she should have the edge over Azarenka, who did the bulk of her damage against Serena with her spectacular backhand.
Azarenka has been fooling opponents all tournament because her backhand is extraordinarily difficult to read. Early preparation and heavy shoulder turn allow her to hit backhands in all directions with the exact same swing. Here, she fools Osaka— who thought she was going crosscourt—with an inside-out backhand winner.
There will likely be plenty of mid-match adjustments and tactic changes as these two champions compete for their third Grand Slam trophy, but in the end, Osaka's ability to absorb and redirect Azarenka's pace should lead her to victory.
The pick: Naomi Osaka