September 11, 2020
Naomi Osaka has just shown that she can thrive under the pressure of being the favourite.
And that’s a scary thing for the rest of women’s tennis – including her US Open final opponent, Victoria Azarenka.
Osaka used to hate all the attention that came with Grand Slam success. But here’s the thing: Naomi has come of age.
Now she can surely add to her previous US Open title and the one she claimed in Australia.
Azarenka will have to raise her level further still to stand a fighting chance.
The 31-year-old Belarusian beat Serena Williams after seeming to freeze at the start.
That was understandable. She won the recent Western and Southern Open but hadn’t seen a Grand Slam semi-final since 2013.
Vika won’t be gifted a second chance against Osaka if she shows early hesitation. She’ll have to hit the ground running.
Otherwise she’ll just get blown away, assuming Osaka replicates the fireworks we just saw.
You have to feel for Williams after all her efforts in New York.
She romped through the first set and must have been dreaming of more great things. It wasn’t to be and Azarenka struck back to win 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Undaunted, Serena will play Roland Garros in search of more history.
But Wimbledon 2021 will still provide the best chance for Serena to equal Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slams.
Williams had a fine US Open. But too many three-set matches finally took their toll.
Why can Serena still harbour realistic hopes at Wimbledon, over all other Grand Slam stages?
Osaka isn’t yet comfortable on grass. That gives hope to others, although Simona Halep will fight hard to defend her title.
So how does Naomi get to stand on the verge of a second US Open title?
She was smart enough to pull out of the Western and Southern final – which would have been against Azarenka – when she felt a twinge in her hamstring.
Now she’s positively flying at just the right time. Jennifer Brady must have been shocked by the astonishing force and accuracy she faced.
Brady played just as well as we thought she would in their semi-final. She was extraordinary.
The underrated Brady showed why she was worthy of being tipped as an outsider for the title. Against any other player, she would surely have prevailed.
She would have beaten Osaka too, had the Japanese superstar shown a shadow of self-doubt when the going got tough.
She didn’t. Osaka was on a mission. She matched her rival’s awesome firepower and found even more after suffering a brief lull.
She earned her stunning 7-6 (7-1), 3-6, 6-3 victory in superlative style. In fact it was the most spectacular women’s tennis we’ve seen for some time.
It also sent a stark message to the rest of tennis. Osaka’s mind and body are back in perfect harmony. Ready to handle any issue, tennis-related or otherwise.
Osaka’s tennis was breathtaking. You almost feared for the winner of the other semi-final.
Azarenka will have to mix it up much more than Brady did, if she wants to stand a chance in the showpiece.
But even when Brady did try to coax Osaka forward, Naomi’s ground speed was equal to the challenge.
All in all, this should be Osaka’s title. However, the unpredictability of women’s tennis never ceases to amaze.
Who would have tipped Halep to win Wimbledon 2019?
Who can safely predict which woman will lift the title at Wimbledon 2021?
Azarenka is an experienced campaigner and enjoying fresh tennis adventures.
Yet it would take a brave observer to bet against Osaka at Flushing Meadows now.