(AP) – After one errant forehand in the first set of the U.S. Open final, Naomi Osaka looked at her coach in the mostly empty Arthur Ashe Stadium stands with palms up, as if to say, “What the heck is happening?”
In response to another wayward forehand against Victoria Azarenka seconds later, Osaka chucked her racket. It spun a bit and rattled against the court.
Surprisingly off-kilter in the early going Saturday, Osaka kept missing shots and digging herself a deficit. Until, suddenly, she lifted her game, and Azarenka couldn’t sustain her start. By the end, Osaka pulled away to a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory for her second U.S. Open championship and third Grand Slam title overall.
“For me, I just thought," said Osaka, who trailed by a set and a break, “it would be very embarrassing to lose this in an under an hour.”
This, then, is what she told herself with a white towel draped over her head at a changeover when things looked bleakest: “I just have to try as hard as I can and stop having a really bad attitude.”
It worked. A quarter-century had passed since a woman who lost the first set of a U.S. Open final wound up winning: In 1994, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario did it against Steffi Graf.
“I wasn’t really thinking about winning. I was just thinking about competing,” Osaka said. “Somehow, I ended up with the trophy.”
Osaka is a 22-year-old who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father; the family moved to the U.S. when she was 3.