“I just thought it would be very embarrassing to lose this in under an hour,” Osaka said, explaining that she told herself to “stop having a really bad attitude.”
Her mood and game improved dramatically as the final progressed, while Azarenka failed to sustain her level of play. After losing the second set and falling behind 1-4 in the third, Azarenka made one more surge, battling through a five-deuce game to hold serve and then breaking Osaka’s serve in the next game to close the gap to 3-4.
But at 30- 15 on Azarenka’s serve in the next game, the match turned for good as Azarenka started hitting shots that failed to penetrate. Osaka won a high-velocity rally to get a break point and then converted it as Azarenka lined up a forehand, went for an inside-out winner and missed just wide. By such tiny margins are Grand Slam titles lost and won.
Osaka then closed out the victory by holding serve as Azarenka’s last shot, a backhand, struck the net to end a 13-shot rally. Osaka tapped rackets with Azarenka at the net — another sign of these changed times — and then lay on her back.
“I always see everyone sort of collapse after match point, but I always think you may injure yourself, so I wanted to do it safely,” she explained.
That seemed fitting at a tournament where staying safe was the priority, as players were tested for the virus regularly and restricted to their lodging and the tournament site.
“It’s not easy times in the world right now,” Azarenka said, holding back tears in her post-match speech in the near-empty stadium. “So I’m very grateful for the opportunity to play in front of millions of people watching on TV, unfortunately not here.”