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Osaka: Fight or Flight

By Richard Pagliaro

Seeing her service games in shambles and her US Open hopes in tatters, Naomi Osaka refused to go to pieces.

Down a set and a break to a red-hot Victoria Azarenka in the US Open final, Osaka gave herself a reality check: fight or fade.

More: Osaka Stages Historic Comeback to Capture Second US Open Title

The fourth seed showed her appetite for the fight rallying past Azarenka 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 making history as the the first woman since Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in 1994 to drop the opening set and roar back to win the US Open final.

"I think I could have easily faded away, but I really wanted to fight, just compete," Osaka said. "I don't know. Honestly, there wasn't really another thought in my mind. I wasn't really thinking about winning, I was just thinking about competing. Somehow I ended up with the trophy.

"Yeah, I feel like I've definitely tried to mature. I wasn't really sure the process that I was going to have to take. But I feel like, you know, the lessons that I learned with life definitely developed me as a person more."

This spirited comeback reinforced the important Osaka's most underrated assets: her ability to bring her best against the best and her stamina and problem-solving skills.

The 22-year-old Osaka raised her 2020 three-set record to 9-1. She fought off another future Hall of Famer raising her Grand Slam finals record to 3-0 after her 2018 US Open sweep of her idol, Serena Williams, and her three-set win over Petra Kvitova in the 2019 Australian Open final.

"I think she has proven that she's able to maintain the level of Grand Slam success for three times now. So that proves a lot," Azarenka said of Osaka. "Her game is very powerful. ..

"She's a great player. She has a lot of weapons where you have to be, like, on top of her and execute really well. But, yeah, she's pretty impressive player. I mean, she's a US Open champion. What else can you say?"

Increasing awareness—on and off the court—has helped Osaka take a major step in the maturation process.

"I feel like two years ago I maybe would have folded being down a set and a break," Osaka said. "But I think, you know, all the matches that I played in between that time shaped me and made me or forced me to mature more.

"Especially all the matches that I've played here were very tough. So, yeah, I think definitely, you know, I'm more of a complete player now. I feel like I'm more aware of what I'm doing."

Photo credit: US Open Facebook