Naomi Osaka is now a three-time Grand Slam champion after beating Victoria Azarenka, 1-6, 6-3, 5-3, on Saturday in a thrilling three-set U.S. Open final. The 22-year-old star is now 2-for-2 in U.S. Open finals after beating Serena Williams in 2018 to win her first major championship.
But initially, things didn’t look for Osaka.
Azarenka got off to a dominant start, breaking Osaka twice and winning the fast, 26-minute first set. But Osaka came back in the second and third, partly by capitalizing on some of Azarenka’s mistakes to come back.
In fact, after the match, ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi told Osaka on the court that she’s the first finalist since 1994 to lose the opening set but still win the match. It’s also the first time in 20 years a female player has won her first three Grand Slam finals going back to Jennifer Capriati in 2000 and 2001, as Chris McKendry later noted in the post-match broadcast.
So when Rinaldi asked Osaka how she was able to fight back, she gave a brutal and honest answer:
“For me, I just thought it would be very embarrassing to lose this in under an hour, so I just have to try as hard as I can and stop having a really bad attitude.”
And after Azarenka came out firing with a 6-1 first-set win in under half an hour, there was suddenly it seemed like the match wouldn’t last much longer than 60 minutes.
But Osaka improved, particularly on her serve, as the match went on, and the second two sets were closer than the scores suggest.
As Azarenka — a two-time Grand Slam champ who is not 0-for-3 in U.S. Open finals — accepted her runner-up trophy, she joked she hopes she and Osaka will meet again in another finals match. Understandably, though, Osaka felt a bit different.
More from the winner’s post-match time at the mic:
“I want to congratulate Vika. I actually don’t want to play you in more finals. I didn’t really enjoy that. It was a really tough match for me, and it’s real inspiring for me because I used to watch you play here when I was younger, so just to have the opportunity to play you is really great, and I learned a lot.”
Osaka also briefly addressed the different masks she’s worn to her matches to raise awareness about Black people who were killed by police and victims of racism and prejudice. At the beginning of the tournament, she said she had seven different masks for what she hoped would be seven U.S. Open matches, and her mask for the final had Tamir Rice’s name on it.
Asked about her masks countless times throughout the tournament. When Rinaldi asked what message she was trying to send, she replied:
“Well, what was the message that you got? This is more of the question. I feel like the point is to make people start talking.”
Other names printed on Osaka’s U.S. Open masks included Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd and Philando Castile.