Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka, two former World No. 1 looking to win their respective third Grand Slam title, when they square off in a blockbuster US Open final.
Osaka and Azarenka have been the two most in-form players since the tour shifted to the New York bubble. Three weeks after Osaka was forced to pull out of the Western & Southern Open summit clash due to a hamstring injury, she and Azarenka will resume their unfinished business on Saturday.
Both players are true icons of the sport, and are championing distinct causes that have fueled their drive and passion these past three weeks.
Naomi Osaka has been doing her bit for the Black Lives Matter campaign, and has dedicated each of her masks at the US Open to victims of racial injustice and oppression. Victoria Azarenka meanwhile is serving as an inspiration to mothers everywhere; she is determined to show the world that you can chase your dreams even after becoming a parent.
It took a monumental effort from both players to reach this stage. Azarenka’s bid for a first-ever Major win over Serena Williams in the semifinal didn’t start the way she would have hoped for. But the 2012 and 2013 runner-up summoned all of her grit to turn it around and make her first Slam final in seven years, with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 win.
A couple of hours before that Naomi Osaka and the sensational Jennifer Brady were involved in a ferocious battle, trading powerful blows for 2 hours 8 minutes.
The enthralling match saw 70 winners being pounded against just 42 unforced errors, with only two breaks of serve throughout.
The 2018 champion managed to eke out the win by being just a little steadier in the decisive moments, but it could just as easily have gone the other way.
Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka have crossed swords thrice in the past, with the Japanese leading the head-to-head 2-1.
Their very first meeting went Azarenka’s way, with a lopsided 6-1, 6-1 scoreline. But that was back at the 2016 Australian Open, when the Belarusian was in peak form and Osaka was just coming through the ranks.
A lot has changed since then, as reflected in their subsequent showdowns. In 2018 when they met in Rome, Osaka was an established name; this time the Japanese blew Azarenka away 6-0, 6-3.
Their next and most recent meeting, at Roland Garros 2019, was highly competitive. Osaka edged Azarenka 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in what many believe was one of the best matches of the year.
The 2020 Western & Southern Open final could have seen their fourth meeting, but an injured Osaka gave Azarenka a walkover.