Despite being ready to concede her semifinal match at the Western & Southern Open, as a way of making a stand against racial injustice, Naomi Osaka was persuaded by the WTA and USTA to compete and now she’s into her first final of the season where she’ll face fellow two-time Grand Slam champion and former world No.1 Victoria Azarenka.
In support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Osaka was wearing a black T-shirt with a fist and the slogan on the front as she stepped on the court for her Cincinnati semifinal against last week’s Prague runner-up Elise Mertens.
The fourth-seeded Osaka comfortably claimed the opener, despite being broken once late in the set, and started the second set with a 2-0 lead, even though she had faced three break points in the opening game. The 24-year-old Mertens then won four games in a row to go 4-2 up, but Osaka responded with three straight games of her own, with the last of the three featuring ten deuces and eight break points saved. After saving one match point to hold for 6-6, Mertens was finished in the tiebreak, 6-2 7-6(5).
Break point conversion is apparently the factor that killed the Belgian 14th seed today, as in all other departments her stats were better than Osaka’s, including the winners-to-unforced-errors differential.
In the match happening simultaneously on Court 10, Azarenka defeated eighth seed Johanna Konta, who had won all her 25 service games en route to the semifinals at the 2020 Western & Southern Open. After losing the first set which was decided by a single break, Azarenka marched through the next two sets to win 4-6 6-4 6-1 and ensure a rise to No.35 in the WTA rankings from her current position No.59.
After coming to the tournament without a tour-level win in twelve months, the 2013 Cincinnati champion Azarenka, one of three mothers in the field, piled up a number of high-profile victories this week, including over Donna Vekic, Caroline Garcia, Alize Cornet and Ons Jabeur.