Victoria Azarenka will meet Naomi Osaka, in the final of the WTA Western & Southern Open. Photo by Stephanie Myles (OpenCourt.ca).
- Coming into this week, Victoria Azarenka had not won a singles match since last year in Cincinnati
- Naomi Osaka put aside off-court distractions and a sleepless night Wednesday to pull through Friday
- Read below for our betting prediction for Osaka vs Azarenka
After the top three seeds went out early, the Western & Southern Open women’s singles final will feature No. 4 seed Naomi Osaka of Japan against the unseeded former No. 1 player from Belarus, Victoria Azarenka.
Perhaps Osaka might have been expected to be there.
Azarenka’s five straight wins this week are a welcomed development for women’s tennis.
Naomi Osaka vs Victoria Azarenka Odds
|Player||Spread||Moneyline at DraftKings||Total|
|Naomi Osaka (JPN)||-2.5 (-141)||-210||O 21.5 (-110)|
|Victoria Azarenka (BLR)||+2.5 (+114)||+170||U 21.5 (-113)|
Odds taken Aug. 28
Azarenka Bounces Back
Coming into the US Open bubble, Azarenka hadn’t won a singles match since the Cincinnati tournament actually was in Cincinnati, over a year ago.
Of course, the 31-year-old from Belarus had only played three matches: one at the 2019 US Open and two in February before the shutdown.
But the Azarenka who arrived in New York bears a more than passing resemblance to the one who won back-to-back Australian Open titles in 2012 and 2013.
The first came when she was 22, the same age Osaka is now.
Osaka and Azarenka – The Road to the Final
|Osaka Opponent||Score||Azarenka Opponent||Score|
|Bye||Bye|| Donna Vekic||6-2, 6-3|
|Karolina Muchova||6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-2||Caroline Garcia||6-2, 7-6 (8)|
| Dayana Yastremska||6-3, 6-1||Alizé Cornet||6-4, 7-5|
| Anett Kontaveit||4-6, 6-2, 7-5||Ons Jabeur||7-6 (9), 6-2|
| Elise Mertens||6-2, 7-6 (5)|| Johanna Konta||4-6, 6-4, 6-1|
It’s been a struggle since the Belarussian returned to the WTA Tour after giving birth to son Leo in 2016.
She has missed chunks of time fighting a custody battle. And she never was able to get any momentum going.
After losing to Aryna Sabalenka in the first round of the 2019 US Open, Azarenka went undercover until she showed up in Monterrey, Mexico in March.
The next week, tennis shut down for six months.
The pure joy in her face as she has mowed through this week’s draw has been heartening. And her tennis has been clean and effective.
Notably, Azarenka has been completely off Twitter and barely on Instagram since before tennis returned.
Social Justice Warrior
Osaka has kept a much higher profile.
Her decision to not play on Thursday, when her semifinal against Mertens was originally scheduled, set off a chain of events.
The 22-year-old was acting in solidarity with other athletes, to protest and raise awareness after yet another Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot seven times in the back by a police officer and was captured on tape.
The tournament decided to put the matches on pause, returning Friday. So Osaka agreed to play Mertens.
And she won, despite what she said was a sleepless night Wednesday.
Last Encounter a Barn-Burner
The match between the two in the second round of last year’s French Open was arguably the finest match Azarenka has played since her return – even in defeat.
Azarenka had already toppled 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first round.
One Serve Better Than The Other
Azarenka has faced some good servers this week. But she has not faced anyone with this pace of shot.
The power from so many more opponents is the biggest change in the game since Azarenka’s prime. Her serve – always a relative weakness for a six-footer – has not always been up to it.
This week, it has been. So far.
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) August 28, 2020
Osaka was grabbing her left hamstring by the end of her semifinal match Friday. And she was walking a little gingerly after closing it out.
She has said this week that playing the week before a major and getting injured are always top of mind.
She’s already scheduled to play her first-round US Open match late Monday night. It’s a short turnaround.
Naomi Osaka vs Victoria Azarenka Head-to-Head
|22 (Oct. 15, 1997)||Age||31 (July 30, 1989)|
|No. 10||Current ranking||No. 59|
|5||WTA Singles Titles||20|
|9-3||2020 won-loss record||5-2|
|No. 1 (Jan. 27, 2019)||Career high ranking||No. 1 (Jan. 29, 2012)|
|$14,617,235||Career Prize Money||$30,360,105|
One secret weapon Osaka has is that her coach Wim Fissette has worked with Azarenka several times.
The most recent stint came last year – almost right up to the time he joined Team Naomi.
Naomi Osaka vs Victoria Azarenka – Previous Matches
|Roland Garros, 2nd round||2019||4-6, 7-5, 6-3||Osaka|
|BNL Internazionali d’Italia (Rome), 1st round||2018||6-0, 6-3||Osaka|
|Australian Open, 3rd round||2016||6-1, 6-1||Azarenka|
Azarenka’s chances will hinge upon her ability to withstand the power of Osaka’s return, and on how she can attack Osaka’s up-and-down second serve.
If she needs encouragement, Mertens was able to create 21 break chances on Osaka’s serve Friday. Unfortunately for the Belgian, she could only convert three.
Prediction: Azarenka (+170)
Stephanie gets the straight dope from the tennis insiders. On court, she has represented her country internationally. A BA in journalism led to years on the MLB beat and a decade covering tennis globally. She’s written for Postmedia, the Guardian, the New York Times and also publishes OpenCourt.ca.