Osaka and former champion Azarenka set final clash at Western and Southern Open
And then there were two.
After a day-long pause at the Western & Southern Open in the name of social justice, the women’s draw picked up where it left off on Wednesday with two high quality semi-final clashes.
Naomi Osaka was the first to advance to the Finals after edging Belgium’s Elise Mertens in two tight sets, 6-2 7-6(5), to book a spot in her eighth career final.
The Japanese star made headlines on Wednesday night when she announced that she would not be playing on Thursday in protest in order to raise awareness for justice in the aftermath of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Osaka explained the process she went through on Wednesday, a time when many other of the nation’s sports leagues were also announcing that they’d be shutting down.
“I guess after my [quarter-final] match I saw everything the NBA was doing,” she told reporters in a virtual press conference. “Then I felt like I also needed to raise my voice, too.”
Osaka said she put a call into her agent and added that the WTA quickly got on board.
“They said that they would love to support and they were going to push play back a day,” she said. “So I put out my statement.”
The two-time Grand Slam champion has been under the media microscope for the last 48 hours, and said that it has affected her sleep.
“I feel like it's been kind of hectic, and I honestly haven't been able to get that much sleep yesterday,” she said. “So I'm glad I was able to win today.”
Osaka improves to 2-1 lifetime against Mertens and will square off with Victoria Azarenka in Saturday’s final in New York.
The World No.10 says there is some extra motivation to win now, because of the heightened pressure that she has been placed under due to her courageous stance.
“I would just say there's a lot of pressure I put on myself, and of course I feel like now there is another reason for me to want to win, but I feel like I have to reel back all those emotions and just focus on what I train for,” she said.
Osaka will square off with 2013 Western & Southern Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the final.
The resurgent Belarusian rallied to defeat Great Britain’s Johanna Konta 6-4 4-6 6-1 to book her 38th career WTA final and first since last April. Remarkably, Azarenka had not won a tour-level match since last year at Cincinnati.
“I think that's what I have been trying to work on is to find myself, to enjoy myself on the court, because I think that was kind of maybe not turning my results into what I wanted before,” Azarenka said. “So I think when you're miserable on the court, it's tough to have a good result.”
Azarenka and Osaka’s Fourth Meeting Will Be for the Title
Azarenka won her first career meeting with Osaka but since then the Japanese star has taken two straight. Osaka says she’s eager to face the Belarusian on her best surface.
“It's really cool to be able to play Vika now, because I played her in the French last year, but I know that probably her best surface is hard court and also my best surface is hard court, so I think it will definitely be a really fun match,” she said.
Azarenka knows she’ll have to be prepared if she is to lift the trophy and earn her first WTA title in over four years, and her 21st overall.
“I will have to adjust tomorrow because I'm not sure what Naomi is going to bring,” she said. “I kind of know her game, but it will take a lot of good tennis, for sure.”