The resurgent Victoria Azarenka aims to capture the second Western & Southern Open title nobody expected as she takes on…
The resurgent Victoria Azarenka aims to capture the second Western & Southern Open title nobody expected as she takes on Naomi Osaka on Saturday.
Naomi Osaka vs Victoria Azarenka | WTA Cincinnati-New York Open final | 11am local/4pm BSTAzarenka 2-1 9/2 Bet Now! New Customers only. 18+. T&C’s Apply. begambleaware.org.
Osaka vs Azarenka is live from New York on Saturday 29 August, 11am local/4pm BST
The 2018 US Open champion Osaka was always among the favourites to win the Cincinnati-New York Open, even with nobody quite sure what to expect as the bulk of the top players took to the court for the first time following a six-month absence. But nobody expected play to be unprecedently paused at Osaka’s instigation on Thursday – nor the Japanese-Haitian player to be so focused when she returned to play her delayed semifinal against Elise Mertens.
Meanwhile, Victoria Azarenka, a long way off the glory days that saw her beat Serena Williams in the 2013 Cincinnati final, came out of nowhere to put together a resurgent run and give herself a shot at a win which would be massive at this point in her career – can she get it?
Read on for our preview, predictions and live streaming information.
How to watch Osaka vs Azarenka live
Western & Southern Open matches including Naomi Osaka vs Victoria Azarenka are streamed live alongside odds and in-play betting at bet365.
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Osaka vs Azarenka: Head-to-head
Osaka leads the head-to-head with Azarenka 2-1. Both Osaka’s wins came on clay, while Azarenka won their only hard-court clash, but that match was all the way back in 2016 at the Australian Open.
Osaka vs Azarenka: Preview
Given how much uncertainty was in the air about how this tournament, relocated from Cincinnati to New York to be played behind closed doors in the midst of a global pandemic, might play out, the conclusion promises to be something of a dream final as Grand Slam champions and former world no. 1s face off.
Osaka has played some great tennis this week after a scrappy start to her first tournament since a miserable Fed Cup defeat to Sara Sorribes Tormo back in February followed the abrupt end to her Australian Open title defense. Against the extremely in-form Anett Kontaveit, Osaka trailed by a set and a break before reeling off a run of games in unplayable form, then dug out a narrow victory.
Then came the events of Thursday, which saw Osaka declare that she would not play her semifinal against Mertens as scheduled. The tournament swiftly responded by pausing all play for the day, and the response was confusion: Had Osaka withdrawn? The player clarified: She had been willing to concede the match to her opponent, but when tournament authorities paused play, she yielded to persuasion to go on competing.
With Osaka’s stand making headlines around the world and igniting predictable debate, it seemed too much to expect that she would be able to focus and produce her best tennis – but that’s just what she did on Friday. Mertens had been in superb form, playing such smart tennis all week to reach the semifinals, and after being outplayed in the first set, she produced it again in the second. The two players exchanged breaks twice before the ninth game found them level at 4-4, with Mertens throwing everything at Osaka in an attempt to break. In a ten-deuce game, Osaka fended off eight break points – mainly by hitting clean winners – to hold for 5-4. Mertens retaliated with a nerveless match-point save at 5-6, then led by a mini-break in the tie-break, two points from pushing the match to a decider. But it was Osaka who won the last three points of the match to get the win 6-2, 7-6(5).
As much as the world no. 10 is an explosive hitter, it was her ability to generate angles and open up the court, especially on the short angle with her backhand, which made the difference today. But one thing that did concern was how tired Osaka appeared to be at the end of the match, perhaps struggling with her legs or back.
Azarenka on the other hand ended her semifinal match looking fresher than when she started. Trounced by Venus Williams in Lexington two weeks ago, Azarenka nevertheless said that she felt she’d found something in the match that had been missing, something mislaid by the former world no. 1 during her lengthy battles with injury and the ugly custody battle that has kept her off tour for huge lengths of time. After wins over Donna Vekic, Caroline Garcia, Alize Cornet and Ons Jabeur, Azarenka dropped her first set of the week against Johanna Konta in the semifinals, but as the match wore on, the Azarenka return only got better and she stayed glued to the baseline in vintage Vika style, smothering Konta with depth to run out a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 victor.
Based purely on perception, Azarenka looks to me like she has the physical advantage on Saturday. She might need it, because her shotmaking cannot match Osaka for explosiveness or sheer power. But her returning can keep Osaka under constant pressure on serve and break that weapon down like Azarenka did Konta’s, she’ll track everything down and if Osaka is anything less than totally fighting fit and match-ready, Azarenka will expose it.