NEW YORK, NY, USA - Two-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka is back into the championship match at the US Open after edging past No.28 seed Jennifer Brady in a thrilling three set contest, 7-6(1), 3-6, 6-3.
The 2018 champion matched Brady blow for blow as the big-hitters squared off, and she fired 35 winners to 17 unforced errors to take down the American and book her spot into the third Grand Slam final of her career.
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“Sometimes I think I have no choice but to play as hard as I can, because my opponent isn't giving me any looks,” Osaka said in her post-match press conference. “For me, normally if I focus that much, then the match potentially could be over in two. But I felt like it just kept going on.
“Honestly, it was a bit fun because that quality of an opponent... at the final stages of a tournament. Yeah, it was fun.”
No.4 seed Osaka has been in fine form throughout the three weeks in the New York City bubble, and the victory extends her winning streak to 10-0. The Japanese player had reached the final at the Western & Southern Open, but withdrew from the championship match against Victoria Azarenka due to a hamstring injury.
Osaka will get another shot at Azarenka as she goes for her second major crown in Flushing Meadows and her third career Grand Slam title: the Belarusian player came back from a set down to defeat No.3 seed Serena Williams in the second semifinal of the night, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 to reach her first major final in seven years.
Osaka was the first person to take a set off the red-hot Lexington champion Brady during the fortnight, and she needed a tiebreak to get the job done in the opening set. It was a high quality battle from the beginning as the big-hitters pummeled the ball for two hours and eight minutes under the closed roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
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“I think I'm just proud of my effort, that I treated each match as the same, came in with the same mentality,” Brady reflected. “The only goal I had was just to compete on every single point. I felt like that's what I did. I'm leaving here pretty proud.”
All 12 games of the opening set went to the server, with just one break point on offer through the tightly contested battle as Brady failed to convert against Osaka at 4-3. With nothing to separate them, every point was crucial - and it was Osaka who raised her level in the tiebreaker to claim the first mini-break, winning the longest rally of the set to take a 2-0 lead. She stayed the more aggressive player as she won the next five of six points to edge ahead and claim the opening set, 7-6(1).
A third Grand Slam final in 3️⃣ years!@naomiosaka puts on a near flawless performance to knock out Brady 7-6(1), 3-6, 6-3.#USOpenpic.twitter.com/KiyiIluE0p— wta (@WTA) September 11, 2020
The second set unfolded in a similar fashion, and both players settled once again into a server’s battle, hitting powerfully from the baseline. Brady once again had a rare opportunity on the Osaka serve, and this time she didn’t falter. The American earned the first break of the match to lead 5-3 after winning a marathon 18-shot rally, and confidently served out the set to take them to a decider.
There had been no signs of nerves from Brady, who was contesting her first Grand Slam semifinal, throughout the three sets. But Osaka took advantage of a brief dip in form from her opponent to bring up her first break point of the match and take a 3-1 lead. It would prove to be decisive, as Brady held firm to shake off three break points and hold for 4-2 - but she couldn’t halt Osaka’s momentum as the No.4 seed sealed her championship berth in three sets, 7-6(1), 3-6, 6-3.
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The victory sends Osaka into a Grand Slam final for the third time, where she’s looking to extend her pristine record having won both of her previous championship contests at the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open.
“I would say I feel like my mindset is much different this time around,” Osaka said. “I feel like I've learned so much through the ups and downs, not even counting the finals, but just regular tour tournaments.
“Mentally I feel stronger. I feel fitter now. It's going to be interesting to see what happens.”