The first big final in over five months on the WTA Tour will see Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka battle it out on Saturday. The match-up between the two two-time Grand Slam champions for the Western and Southern Open title is not one that many saw coming.
Naomi Osaka was always expected to contend for the title after the players’ field was announced. She was accompanied by just four of her top-10 colleagues in the WTA rankings. But coming back after six months away cannot be easy for anyone and Osaka was tested at every stop on her way to the final.
The semi-final against Elise Mertens was a straight-set win but was far from straightforward. After winning the first set comfortably, Osaka had to fight really hard in the second. She had a very weak match on serve and had to save eight break points alone at 4-4 in the second set. But Naomi Osaka showed her mettle to prevail. Osaka was not sure what the restart would bring, but an appearance in the final is always encouraging. Especially, with the US Open on the horizon.
Naomi Osaka’s road to the final
On the other hand, Azarenka’s story of resurgence is one that sets up an interesting final. The former world number one has been in ominous form all week. She had not dropped a set until her semi-final against Johanna Konta. She overcame a set deficit against Konta for the win. Azarenka also won two tight tie-breaks earlier in the tournament, showing that she won’t be dettered in crucial situations. She has also played one match more than Osaka. Azarenka will look to win her first title since the 2016 Miami Open.
Victoria Azarenka’s road to the final
Osaka leads Azarenka 2-1 in their head-to-head. Azarenka won their first contest at the 2016 Australian Open. But Osaka has won the last two matches, with their 2019 French Open match being a tough three-set battle.
It would not be a stretch to say that Azarenka is the better player coming into the match. In all fairness to Osaka, she has done a great job in her first event in over six months. She has fought her way through the draw. However, Azarenka will not provide her an escape route if she makes errors in the final, especially on serve. Azarenka’s return game looks as sharp as ever. It is a given that two players in a final are always high on confidence. But what will decide the outcome is who prevails in crunch situations, and both players have a lot of experience of doing so.
Prediction – Victoria Azarenka to win in three sets