Belarusian will now play 2018 winner Naomi Osaka
Victoria Azarenka registered a remarkable comeback victory against six-time champion Serena Williams in a three-set thriller to book her place in the US Open 2020 women’s singles final against Naomi Osaka on Thursday.
The unseeded Belarusian fought back to overcome Williams, seeded third, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in 1hr 56min under the roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
It will be the former world number one’s first appearance in the final of a tennis major since Williams beat her in the final of the US Open in 2013.
“That’s my favorite number so I guess that’s meant to be,” Azarenka said of her seven-year wait to return to a Grand Slam singles final.
“I’m very grateful for this opportunity. I’m so grateful to be able to play such a champion in the semi-finals,” she added.
Two-time Grand Slam winner Azarenka had never beaten Williams before in a Grand Slam and she seemed to be heading for another agonizing loss after being hammered 6-1 in the first set.
But the 31-year-old turned the tide in set two, upping her service game and drastically reducing her unforced errors as she began to dictate lengthy rallies.
“I knew it’s never over until I have another chance,” said Azarenka.
The player from Belarus also suffered a heartbreaking loss to Williams in the 2012 US Open, when she served for the match at 5-3 in the third set only to lose 7-5.
Azarenka was determined that history would not repeat itself. Serving for the match, she hit a double fault before smashing her fastest serve of the night at 109 mph.
When Williams then challenged and lost an ace that was called in on the next point, it was game, set and match to Azarenka.
“I’ve been there before. Today was gonna be different,” Azarenka said.
Her last Slam title came at the 2013 Australian Open, when she retained the crown she had won a year earlier.
The 31-year-old is enjoying a fairytale run at the US Open after claiming last month’s Western and Southern Open tune-up event in New York.
Williams had been hoping to match Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles.
Osaka defeated 28th seed Jennifer Brady in a high quality three-setter to confirm her place in the fixture.
The Japanese 2018 US Open champion overcame the 25-year-old American 7-6 (7/1), 3-6, 6-3 in 2hr 8min under the roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I just felt like I was sticking it out, it felt like we were trading serves,” Osaka said of the semi-final tussle.
“I think I tried to adjust a little bit on her serve in the third set so maybe that helped,” she added.
Brady, 25, had not dropped a set during her run to her first Grand Slam semi-final.
And the world number 41 went toe-to-toe with Osaka until the first set tie-break.
The players traded six held service games each before Osaka the world number nine took control of the tie-break.
At 2-1, Osaka won five points in a row, which included two unforced errors by Brady.
In set two the first seven games were held before Brady broke Osaka’s serve to take a 5-3 lead.
She then successfully held to take the match to a deciding third set as the duo traded big serves with powerful forehand groundstrokes.
The breakthrough in the deciding set came game when Osaka broke Brady’s serve in a fourth game that included a lucky net cord point for the Japanese.
Osaka then held her own to go 4-1 in front with the help of another net cord point.
Brady refused to go quietly though, forcing Osaka to hold twice to ensure the win and a second US Open final in three years.
“I kind of consider New York my second home. I really love the atmosphere,” Osaka said.
“Even though sadly there’s no people here, I really feel like this court really suits me well,” she added.
Osaka has now won her last ten matches. “I just felt like I wanted to come out of quarantine being positive and not really caring if I win or lose,” she said.