WTA Western & Southern Open Finals


Victoria Azarenka about to hit a backhand

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 [15] Donna Vekic 6-2, 6-3
Karolina Muchova 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-2 Caroline Garcia 6-2, 7-6 (8)
[16] Dayana Yastremska 6-3, 6-1 Alizé Cornet 6-4, 7-5
[12] Anett Kontaveit 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 Ons Jabeur 7-6 (9), 6-2
[14] Elise Mertens 6-2, 7-6 (5) [8] 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.

 

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
5-11 Height 6 feet
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
2 Head-to-Head 1

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

Tournament Year Score Winner
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)

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Stephanie Myles

MLB NHL Tennis Sports Writer

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