Naomi Osaka defeats Elise Mertens to reach W&S final
Naomi Osaka overcame a faulty serve and reached the finals of the Western & Southern Open on Friday following a one-day break in the tournament prompted by her call for racial justice.
Osaka, the only Top 10 player left in the women’s bracket, sparked the break by announcing she would drop out of the tournament rather than play a semifinal match against Elise Mertens. Osaka chose to keep playing after the unified one-day show of support.
How would she handle the emotions of the last few days? She was up to the moment. She struggled with her serve — her toss was repeatedly off the mark — but gritted out a 6-2, 7-6 (5) victory to reach her first Western & Southern title match.
Osaka’s tweet on Wednesday night that as a Black woman she’s exhausted and “sick to my stomach” over the many Black people killed by police drew quick support from other players and resulted in tennis joining other sports in calling off play temporarily. Osaka didn’t practice on the off day.
Osaka, a two-time Grand Slam champion, held serve to open her match against the 14th-seeded Mertens, and then broke for a 2-0 lead that set the tone. Osaka surged ahead 5-1. Even though her serve was inconsistent — she made only half of them — the fourth-seeded Osaka fought off 18 of 21 break points while gritting it out.
One alarming moment: Osaka grabbed her left hamstring after chasing a ball during the tiebreaker, but completed the match without pause. Osaka won the 2018 U.S. Open and will be coming off a successful week — in many ways — heading into this one.
The Western & Southern Open was moved from Mason Ohio to the US Open site in Flushing Meadows because of pandemic precautions, creating a two-tournament event without spectators. Osaka will face resurgent Victoria Azarenka, who beat Johanna Konta 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 to reach the Western & Southern final for the first time since 2013, when she beat Serena Williams.
The 31-year-old Azarenka considered retiring at the start of the year. She lost in the first round at Monterrey and to Venus Williams at Lexington last week. Azarenka, ranked No. 59, smiled throughout her semifinal and raised her index finger after finishing it off. She has lost only one set this week.