[4] Naomi OSAKA (JPN) vs. Victoria AZARENKA (BLR)


No.4 seed Naomi Osaka faces the unseeded Victoria Azarenka for the fourth time in the US Open final, and the Japanese player leads the head-to-head 2-1. Azarenka was a 6-1, 6-1 victor in their first meeting, in the third round of the 2016 Australian Open - Osaka's Grand Slam main draw debut, and their only previous hardcourt encounter. Since then, Osaka has won a pair of meetings on clay: a 6-0, 6-3 rout in the first round of Rome 2018, and a more hard-fought 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory from a set and a break down in the second round of Roland Garros 2019, the only time they have met on the Grand Slam stage before.

Like last year, the US Open final is a reprise of unfinished business from a preceding hardcourt title match. In 2019, Serena Williams retired after just four games in the Toronto final against Bianca Andreescu due to a back injury; a month later, the pair met again in Flushing Meadows, with Andreescu completing the win to claim her maiden Grand Slam crown. Last week, Osaka and Azarenka were due to meet in the Cincinnati final, only for Osaka to withdraw due to a hamstring injury.

Victoria Azarenka celebrates her defeat of Naomi Osaka in the third round of the 2016 Australian Open.

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As walkovers do not count as official wins or losses, both players are carrying a winning streak into the US Open final - Azarenka on 11 and Osaka on 10. Osaka's longest winning streak to date is so far is the run of 14 victories she put together between September 2019 and January 2020, encompassing the Osaka and Beijing titles, a win at the WTA Finals Shenzhen before withdrawing from the tournament, and a semifinal run in Brisbane ended by Karolina Pliskova. Azarenka's record is 26 wins in a row at the start of 2012, when she ran off titles in Brisbane, the Australian Open, Doha and Indian Wells before Marion Bartoli ended the streak in the Miami quarterfinals.

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This year's US Open final is the first Grand Slam title match of the Open Era between two-time major champions, and the first overall since the 1967 US Open, when Billie Jean King claimed her third Grand Slam trophy over Ann Haydon-Jones. Azarenka, the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open champion, has a 2-2 record in Grand Slam finals, having also lost the US Open final in both of those years to Serena Williams. Osaka, winner of the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open, has a 2-0 record in major finals - and indeed has won the title every time she has gone beyond the fourth round of a Slam. Azarenka holds a 21-17 record in finals overall compared to Osaka's 5-3 (numbers which would be 20-17 and 5-2 respectively excluding the Cincinnati walkover).

Naomi Osaka is bidding to become just the fifth player in the Open Era to win her first three Grand Slam finals, following Virginia Wade (US Open 1968, Australian Open 1972, Wimbledon 1977), Monica Seles (Roland Garros 1990, Australian Open 1991, Roland Garros 1991), Lindsay Davenport (US Open 1998, Wimbledon 1999, Australian Open 2000) and Jennifer Capriati (Australian Open 2001, Roland Garros 2001, Australian Open 2002).

Naomi Osaka has become the 10th player in the Open Era to reach at least one Grand Slam final in each of the two years following her maiden Grand Slam title, joining Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Chris Evert, Hana Mandlikova, Stefanie Graf, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, Venus Williams and Justine Henin. Of those, Evert, Graf, Seles, Hingis, Davenport and Henin managed to lift major trophies in each of the two years after first becoming a Grand Slam champion.

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The winner on Saturday will claim her third major crown to tie Angelique Kerber for the fourth-most Grand Slam titles among active players (behind only Serena Williams on 23, Venus Williams on seven and Kim Clijsters on four). Four players in the Open Era have previously won their third Grand Slam title at the US Open: Hana Mandlikova in 1985, Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in 1994, Martina Hingis in 1997 and Kim Clijsters in 2010.

Former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka is the fifth unseeded US Open finalist in the Open Era, following 1997 runner-up Venus Williams, 2009 champion Kim Clijsters, 2015 runner-up Roberta Vinci and 2017 champion Sloane Stephens. The Belarusian is ranked World No.27, her highest placement since March 2017, following her Cincinnati title - points that were added after the US Open's seedings were made. Azarenka is guaranteed to climb to World No.14, and a title would push her to World No.11, while World No.9 Osaka will return to World No.4 regardless of the final result.

Naomi Osaka reacts during her second-round win over Victoria Azarenka at Roland Garros 2019.

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Prior to her Cincinnati run, Azarenka had been on a four-match losing streak that had started at Cincinnati last year, where she lost to Donna Vekic in the second round. That was followed by a first-round exit at the US Open to compatriot Aryna Sabalenka - a defeat she avenged in the second round this year - and then by a six-month hiatus in which the 31-year-old contemplated retirement. On returning, Azarenka lost in the first round of Monterrey to Tamara Zidansek before the COVID-19 pandemic forced another six-month break on her, and making her comeback in Lexington was defeated by Venus Williams in the first round. Before Cincinnati, the last time Azarenka had won consecutive matches was in making the third round of Wimbledon 2019; the last time she had won three matches in a row was in reaching the 2019 Rome quarterfinals; the last time she had won four matches in a row was reaching the 2019 Monterrey final; the last time she had won five matches in a row was in making the 2018 Miami semifinals; and the last time she had won six matches in a row was in completing the 2016 Sunshine Double with titles in Indian Wells and Miami.

Osaka has spent 10 hours and 26 minutes on court en route to the final, dropping three sets in total - in the first round to Misaki Doi, the third round to Marta Kostyuk and the semifinals to Jennifer Brady. Azarenka's court time so far is nine hours and 23 minutes, with just two sets conceded to Karolina Muchova in the fourth round and Serena Williams in the semifinals. Both of Azarenka's lost sets were first sets, while all three of Osaka's were middle sets.

US Open Final Preview: Naomi Osaka vs. Victoria Azarenka


There is no shortage of compelling stories in the US Open women's singles final, writes Ava Wallace at the Washington Post.

Chris Oddo at usopen.org has a wide-ranging interview with 1998 US Open champion and former World No.1 Lindsay Davenport.

US Open semifinalist Jennifer Brady is one of a long line of players, including Billie Jean King, who has had US Open success after a stint in college, writes Arthur Kapetanakis at usopen.org.