Azarenka Claims Western & Southern Open Title After Osaka Withdraws

WASHINGTON, August 29, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

By walkover, unseeded and 59th-ranked Victoria Azarenka won the Western & Southern Open women’s singles title for the second time on Saturday. Earlier, World No. 10 Naomi Osaka withdrew from the final due to a left hamstring injury.

“I’m sorry to have to withdraw today with an injury,” the fourth seed Osaka said in a statement released by the tournament Saturday morning about 90 minutes before the scheduled final. “I pulled my left hamstring yesterday in the second set tiebreak and it has not recovered overnight as I had hoped. This has been an emotional week and I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support.”

As a result, instead of playing the women’s final inside Louis Armstrong Stadium, a scaled-back trophy presentation took place, and the women’s doubles championship match that was originally scheduled to be played on Court 10 was moved into Armstrong.

By capturing the Western & Southern title for the second time after winning it in 2013, it became the 21st title of Azarenka’s career and her first since winning the Miami Open in 2016.

Osaka had advanced to Saturday’s final after defeating 14th-seed Elise Mertens in Friday’s first semifinal match. Earlier in the week, she defeated No. 26 Karolina Muchova, No. 25 Dayana Yastremska and No. 20 Anett Kontaveit during the WTA Premier 5 tournament, a tune-up for next week’s US Open, which takes place at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the same site as this year’s relocated Western & Southern Open.

Meanwhile, Azarenka’s journey to the winner’s circle included wins over No. 24 Donna Vekic, No. 49 Caroline Garcia, No. 60 Alizé Cornet, No. 39 Ons Jabeur and No. 15 Johanna Konta. She lost just one set all week.

“I was looking forward to competing against Naomi,” Azarenka said during her virtual press conference that followed the trophy presentation. “It would have been an amazing opportunity to face her level, and she’s been playing really great. …And playing in the final is always really special, so, you know, I just take it the way it is. I can’t change anything. I just have to accept what it is.

“I would have loved to have played, but you know, I played five really good matches this week, and I think I deserve to be where I am today.”

When Azarenka was asked by Tennis TourTalk to describe how winning this title ranks among her career achievements, she smiled, then expressed: “It’s pretty significant. It’s my first title as a mom. I haven’t even thought about it. So, that makes it special. That part is special to me. 

“Winning the title is obviously – you know, I work hard to win matches. But I’m so much enjoying the process of playing and the battling that winning is like, I guess, the bonus, you know, and winning a tournament is a bonus. 

“I enjoy playing. Like, I had so much fun practicing today that I kind of want to go out and play more. It’s just a different feeling for me, being on the court right now.”

Azarenka will get her wish to play more when she returns in a couple of days to play her first-round match in the US Open against No. 139 Barbara Haas of Austria.

Looking back, on Wednesday Osaka made headline news after she decided to join athletes in other professional sports who were staging protests across the United States against racial injustice and social inequality. By her actions, the USTA, ATP Tour and WTA issued a joint statement that led to a one-day pause in tournament play on Thursday.

In reacting to being in the spotlight by her actions, Osaka said, “It’s definitely a bit eye-opening but in an odd way, because I only thought the Big Three (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic) and Serena (Williams) would have that type of power.

“At the same time, I recognize the fact that maybe the WTA and ATP wanted to do something like this but they needed a push from a player to do something like this? So, maybe, I was sort of that one player.

“I think it’s definitely really cool of them to do this and for them to be open to changing for social issues.”

During her press conference before the trophy presentation, Tennis TourTalk asked Osaka what positive takeaways she garnered from this week and going forward with the US Open starting in two days. She thought about the question for a moment and said in a soft-spoken voice: “For me, I feel like I played very good matches. I feel like I learned a lot, and definitely a lot off the court has also happened this week. 

“So, I think I’m just happy with how I managed everything and how I was still able to focus on, you know, when I was playing the matches, tennis.”

Next, Osaka is scheduled to play Misaki Doi of Japan on Monday’s Opening Night of the US Open in Arthur Ashe Stadium. It was at the 2018 US Open that Osaka won her first major title in 2018. When Tennis TourTalk asked her if she would have enough time realistically to recover from her hamstring injury, Osaka said: “You know, I never know with that, but I just hope I’m giving myself the opportunity and the chance to have enough time, because I feel like I would know the answer to your question after I played my US Open match.”

Czech-Dutch duo win women’s doubles

Third seeds Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic and Demi Schuurs from the Netherlands pulled out a 6-1, 4-6, 10-4 victory over second seeds Nicole Melichar of the United States and Xu Yifan of China to win the women’s doubles title on Louis Armstrong Stadium in one hour and 18 minutes.

It was the Czech-Dutch duo’s first title together and marked the fourth WTA title of World No.12 Schuurs’ career. Meanwhile, for World No. 23 Peschke, at age 45, she picked up her 35th crown.