Azarenka was not a seed but was not a tennis outsider. She was No 1 for 51 weeks in 2012 and 2013 and won two Australian Open singles titles before Williams reasserted herself atop the women’s match, and Azarenka fell back.
She had injuries, painful breakups with boyfriends and coaches and, most traumatic, a long and bitter custody dispute over her 3-year-old son Leo, who remained with Azarenka, his mother and his team. in a private house she rented near the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for the tournament.
She would have been the first mother to win a Grand Slam singles title since Kim Clijsters won the Australian Open in 2011. As Azarenka dominated the opening set, hitting almost every first serve in play and controlling rallies, it appeared she could win in a hurry. Osaka threw down his racquet at one point in frustration as his unforced errors piled up.
“I just thought it would be very embarrassing to lose that in less than an hour,” Osaka said, explaining that she told herself “to stop having a really bad attitude.”
Her mood and game improved dramatically as the final progressed, while Azarenka failed to maintain her level of play. After losing the second set and falling behind 1-4 in the third, Azarenka was made another push, fighting for a five-two game to hold the serve, then breaking Osaka’s serve in the next game to close the lead to 3-4.
But at 30-30 on Azarenka’s serve in the next match, the match turned for good as Osaka won a high-speed rally to get a break point and then converted it as Azarenka was lining up a forehand, had gone for an upside down winner and missed just wide.
Osaka, who has yet to lose a major final, then closed the win by holding serve as Azarenka’s last shot, a backhand, hit the net. Osaka tapped rackets with Azarenka at the net – another sign of these weather changes – then lay on her back on the court and took a moment to savor the moment.