This year, Naomi Osaka had to fight back from a set down against an inspired Victoria Azarenka – and navigate a tricky decider which could have swung either way – on a virtually empty Arthur Ashe Stadium because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Naomi Osaka looked a little lost as Victoria Azarenka overwhelmed her in a fast start, hitting 13 unforced errors and struggling to cope with the Belarusian’s proactive play and controlled aggression.
Eventually, though, the mental resilience which the Japanese says she has developed over recent months came to the fore.
That resulted in a major momentum shift in Naomi Osaka’s favor as Victoria Azarenka threatened to move 3-0 ahead in the second set.
The former world No 1 maintained that level in the decider to earn a 4-1 lead, but was unable to convert one of three break points to move 5-1 ahead.
That might have proved costly when Victoria Azarenka immediately put the set back on serve, only for Naomi Osaka to battle back again by winning what proved to be the final two games.
Serena Williams won her fifth US Open title in a thrilling final against Victoria Azarenka at Flushing Meadows.
World number one Serena Williams, 31, overcame a determined opponent and a testing wind to win 7-5 6-7 (6-8) 6-1 and repeat last year’s final victory against the Belarusian.
Serena Williams has now won 17 Grand Slam singles titles, moving her to within one of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, and seven short of Margaret Court’s record total of 24.
But after letting a double-break lead slip in the second set, and twice failing to serve out the match, Serena Williams was made to dig as deep as in any of her 16 previous major wins.
Serena Williams won her fifth US Open title in a thrilling final against Victoria Azarenka at Flushing Meadows
“Vika’s such a great opponent, such a great fighter and that’s why she’s been able to win multiple Grand Slams,” Serena Williams said of Victoria Azarenka after their contest.
“That’s why it was never over until match point.”
Victoria Azarenka, 24, had beaten Serena Williams twice this year, the last time in Cincinnati on the eve of the US Open, and clearly believed she could defeat the American on a bigger stage.
Serena Williams looked in ominously good form when she cracked a backhand cross-court to break in the opening game, but a couple of errors gave the advantage straight back.
Victoria Azarenka was dealing better with the gusting wind on Arthur Ashe Stadium and serving well, in marked contrast to Serena Williams, who also had to cope with a skirt that was clearly not designed for such conditions.
Belarusian Victoria Azarenka retained her Australian Open title and kept hold of the world number one spot with victory over Li Na in the Melbourne final.
Victoria Azarenka, 23, came back from a set down to win 4-6 6-4 6-3 on a cool and blustery evening on Rod Laver Arena.
In a scrappy match, Victoria Azarenka proved the stronger in the closing stages after Li Na rolled her ankle twice and hit her head in two heavy falls.
The victory brought Victoria Azarenka her second Grand Slam title after last year’s win at Melbourne Park, and ensured she will not be overtaken by Serena Williams in the next world rankings.
“I will always keep a very special memory of this court and you will be in my heart forever,” Victoria Azarenka told the crowd in her post-match on-court interview.
However, it was Li Na who carried most of the support throughout the final, due in part to Victoria Azarenka’s controversial medical timeout in her semi-final against Sloane Stephens.
Victoria Azarenka had been accused of gamesmanship, despite later insisting the timeout had been necessary because of breathing difficulties.
Either way, the negative attention she garnered in the build-up to the final only added to the support for the already popular Li Na.
The Chinese player had marginally the better of a desperately scrappy first set of 32 errors and 16 winners between the pair.
Li Na was much the more effective on the return and after recovering from 5-2 down to 5-4, Victoria Azarenka double-faulted on set point, summing up her evening to that point.
Victoria Azarenka retained her Australian Open title and kept hold of the world number one spot with victory over Li Na in the Melbourne final
A few calls from the boisterous Australia Day crowd probably did not help, although at times it appeared that Li was as distracted by her own vociferous supporters.
Victoria Azarenka made a strong start to the second set with a double break as Li Na’s famously unreliable radar went haywire, but the sixth seed was battling back when at 3-2 down when she suffered a fall.
She hobbled back to the chair and took a medical timeout of her own to get her left ankle taped, leaving Victoria Azarenka to don her tracksuit top and practise a few serves.
It looked as though the timeout had worked against Victoria Azarenka this time when Li Na came out firing with five points in a row, but the top seed clung on from 0-40 to stay ahead.
Li Na then offered up four errors in a row to give Victoria Azarenka the break at 5-4, and she closed out the set to force a decider.
After breaks were swapped at the start, Li Na looked to be regaining some sort of control at 2-1 up only to be interrupted for nine minutes by the annual Australia Day fireworks display.
Disaster struck on the resumption, when Li Na crashed to the ground during the first point and rolled the same ankle, before cracking her head on the court as she fell.
The sixth seed looked dazed, although she did manage a thin smile when her face appeared on the big screen, but she needed another timeout, and again Victoria Azarenka went through an unexpected practice routine.
Li Na resumed firing forehands but Victoria Azarenka held on to her serve at 2-2 and then got the decisive break in game five, hanging on to it when Li squandered a break point at 4-3 down.
After struggling to hold on to her serve in the early stages, Victoria Azarenka was now attacking her opponent’s with similar gusto.
The world number one avoided having to serve out when Li Na floated a forehand long on championship point, Victoria Azarenka dropping her racquet and burying her face in her hands in celebration.