Seven years ago Victoria Azarenka was preparing to face Serena Williams in the final of the US Open.

Tonight in New York, after an eventful life journey, a child and a subsequent custody battle, Azarenka is set to resume her journey of discovery.

Azarenka is a little older and wiser, and at 31, ready to reclaim her crown.

Thursday night’s semi-final win over Williams was a key moment.

It announced her back on the world stage.

“When you are coming up from nothing and you become the No 1 player in the world, sometimes you can start to think that you’re invincible and you’re better than anybody, and it’s not true, and your ego gets damaged,” Azarenka said.

“Instead of getting the ego damage, I tried to remove that and learn from my mistakes, and realising that being a tennis player doesn’t make you better or worse than anybody else.

“I’m very proud of myself that I took that challenge up from losing and turned it around and became better. I’m not talking about being a better player – I’m talking about being a better person for myself and my son.

“That’s what I’m most proud of.”

Her opponent tonight, Naomi Osaka, has also found form again, albeit in a shorter timespan.

When Azarenka was setting for for that 2013 final, Osaka was a young player with plenty of talent, making her way in the world of tennis, playing small town events in Quebec, Canada.

Two quick grand slams: in New York in 2018 in ‘that’ match against Williams, famous for all the wrong reason and then in Australia, catapulted her to fame.

But it was short-lived and she has struggled for over a year.

Tonight it could be her year again, as a hungrier and more mature Osaka looks for a third slam title.

And the key to this final is all about the server and the return service.

Osaka’s serve has been crucial in her march to the final. She has won 93 per cent of her service games across the six matches.

And she has saved 76 per cent of the breakpoints she has faced, compared to Azarenka’s 50 per cent.

But … and this to many is a ‘big’ but, Osaka has not faced a return service the like of Azarenka’s quality.

Azarenka broke Serena Williams three times, killing off a second serve potential.

“There are some players who are able to generate power with their arms,” Azarenka said. “I’m able to generate a lot of power and redirecting the ball with my movement.”

“The timing is really important, to be able to cut those angles, to be able to rush your opponent with maybe not as much power, but with that precision and closer to the ball.”

Osaka can thank Wim Fissette for her game.

“My plan to clean up the unforced errors is first footwork,” Fisette said.

“Everything starts with the footwork. She has been working really hard. We had about 10 weeks in L.A. I was very happy with that.

It really is anyone’s game.


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