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Azarenka: It's Just Painful

By Richard Pagliaro

Seven years after her last US Open final, Victoria Azarenka was right where she wanted to be: Riding high up a set and a break in this US Open final.

In a clash of former world No. 1 Grand Slam champions, Naomi Osaka served with command down the stretch in a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, comeback conquest of Azarenka for her second US Open title in the last three years.

More: Osaka Battles Back for Third Grand Slam Title

The 31-year-old Azarenka was candid sharing the deep deflation after suffering her third US Open final loss following successive setbacks to Serena Williams in the 2012 and 2013 finals.

Azarenka has gone down swinging suffering three-set losses in all three Flushing Meadows final defeats, but that doesn't dull the stinging pain of seeing the dream—and trophy—escape again.

"I'm not necessarily disappointed. It's just painful," Azarenka said. "It's painful to lose. That is what it is. It was close. I was close. But it didn't go my way. Am I going to think about it too long? Not at all. I said it. I win or I lose, I'm not going to change. I'm not going to sit here and be miserable."

Osaka is the first woman to fight back from a set down and win the US Open final since Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in 1994.

It was a near-flawless first-set serving performance from Azarenka, who made 16 of 17 first serves in the opening set and rolled to a one set, 2-0 lead before Osaka's rally. 

Azarenka, who lost to Venus Williams in her Lexington opener last month, can look back on a tremendous 11-match winning streak that saw her play some of the most dyanamic, determined and joyful tennis of her career. 

The former world No. 1 arrived in this USTA bubble along with son Leo, her own mom and a world ranking of No. 59. At the Western & Southern Open preceding the US Open and played on the same Billie Jean King National Tennis Center courts, Azarenka knocked off Caroline Garcia, Ons Jabeur and Johanna Konta then received a walkover from Osaka to collect her 21st career title.

Empowered, Azarenka played two of the best matches of her career back-to-back annihilating 2019 US Open doubles champion Elise Mertens 6-1, 6-0 in a quarterfinal thrashing then bouncing back to beat 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in a rousing semifinal. 

In defeat tonight, Azarenka sounded both philosophical and determined to someday get her hands on that shiny silver US Open trophy.

"This was an experience that was just an experience that didn't go my way. I had a great two weeks," Azarenka said. "I enjoyed myself. I did everything I could today.

"Could I have played better? I think I could. But I left everything I could on the court today. She won the match. All the credit to Naomi. She's a champion. As I said, I thought third time is a charm, but I got to try again. That's what I'm going to do."

Photo credit: Simon Bruty