Two former No. 1 players entered New York’s Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday looking for their third career Grand Slam title — only one of them emerged with that honor.
Just before dusk, Naomi Osaka of Japan defeated Victoria Azarenka of Belarus in an exhilarating 2020 US Open women’s final. The 22-year-old had been ranked No. 1 by the Women’s Tennis Association and is the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles. The match, which ended 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, was the culmination of two weeks of play in a tournament that pushed through despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Osaka trumped American Jennifer Brady on Thursday to advance to the finals. Separately, Azarenka was propelled to the championship match beating 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinals. Had she won, she would have become the fourth women’s tennis player in history to win a Grand Slam tournament after giving birth. (Her son, Leo, will turn 4 years old in December.)
“I thought the third time was the charm, but I guess I have to start again,” she said after the match.
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Osaka, who took the microphone and her trophy after Azarenka, joked with the 31-year-old tennis pro, “I actually didn’t want to play you in the finals — it was really tough for me.” She added, “I learned a lot, so thank you.”
In late August, Osaka revealed her newest collaboration with Nike and Comme des Garçons, which is set to release in November. She has served as an ambassador for the sportswear giant since last April and recently launched a girls-only sports program dubbed Play Academy with Naomi Osaka — in partnership with the brand and Laureus Sport for Good — to increasing girls’ participation in sport by awarding grants to help build community organizations and focusing on coaches who are trained in gender-inclusivity, among other initiatives.
“The more I learned about the barriers that girls face in getting active, the more determined I felt to do something about it,” the athlete said in an early August op-ed. “I started talking with people who could help — people who understand just how much sport and play can mean for a girl who’s still finding her own place in this big world.”