Naomi Osaka has won the US Open title for a second time, beating Victoria Azarenka in the women’s singles final at Flushing Meadows.
The Japanese fourth seed was swept aside by a dominant Azarenka in the first set, before hitting back to win the next two sets to take the match 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in one hour 53 minutes.
The victory gives Osaka her third grand slam title.
She beat Serena Williams to win the 2018 US Open, and then defeated Petra Kvitova at Melbourne Park to win last year’s Australian Open.
The hardcourt major was staged without fans in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The victory allowed the 22-year-old to maintain her 100 per cent winning record in grand slam finals, while Azarenka was denied a US Open crown for a third time having also finished runner-up in 2012 and 2013.
Still it was a remarkable and unexpected run for the 31-year-old Belarusian, who was playing in her first major final in seven years.
It marked the first time since Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in 1994 that a player had dropped the first set of the women’s final and fought back to win the title.
The final point ended with Azarenka hitting a return into the net.
A safe celebration
Osaka teared up as she walked towards the net and greeted Azarenka, then walked back to the middle of the court and carefully lay down.
She then stared calmly up at the sky for 10-15 seconds.
Asked about this afterwards, she said: “I always see everyone sort of collapse after match point, but I think you may injure yourself so I want to do it safely!”
Osaka had come to the tournament intent on making a statement, choosing to wear masks for each round with the name of a black victim of police violence.
For the final she wore a mask with the name Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was shot dead by a police officer in Ohio in 2014 while holding a replica toy gun.
When asked about the message she wanted to send, Osaka replied: “What was the message that you got? That was more the question. I feel like the point is to make people start talking.”
Azarenka had started the match off in dominant form, breaking Osaka three times to take the opening set in just 27 minutes.
She then earned the early break in the second set and quickly led 2-0. But with the final seemingly slipping away, Osaka found another gear.
She broke back and then after games went on serve, Osaka took four games in a row from 2-3 down to level the match after an hour and seven minutes.
Azarenka came under increasing pressure, and as Osaka found her range and started accumulating winners, the game’s momentum shifted in her favour.
Games went on serve until Osaka managed to break Azarenka to take a 3-1 lead.
The Belarusian was poised to hit straight back as she moved to 0-40 on Osaka’s serve, but the Japanese star reeled off five successive points to hold serve.
It seemed to be the decisive blow, but Azarenka then broke back to trail 3-4.
Osaka, however, had other ideas — she won three points in a row from 30-15 down to take the eighth game, then served out for the championship.
Azarenka was attempting to break the record for the longest time gap between grand slam title wins.
It was seven years and seven months since she won the 2013 Australian Open. The existing record was five years six months by Briton Virginia Wade, between the 1972 Australian Open and the 1977 Wimbledon title.