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Mag By Craig Gabriel

NAOMI OSAKA IS THE CHAMPION
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NAOMI OSAKA IS THE CHAMPION

The 2018 women’s final at the US Open was one of the most talked about tennis matches in the sport’s history, and for all the wrong reasons. It was a match that escalated out of control as Serena Williams engaged in a discussion with the chair umpire. It was not a heated exchange but more akin to an inferno.

It was an ugly situation that developed into calls of racism and a crowd not knowing the rules getting involved and creating an even bigger scene. Then, at the presentation, the then chairman of the USTA all but said the right player did not win. 

It arguably remains the most controversial major final on record.

Naomi Osaka had played an incredible match to win that US Open, her first major, yet she was booed by sections of the crowd, she was made to feel embarrassed, she shed some tears and her moment of glory was very wrongly taken away from her.

On that same tennis court, the Arthur Ashe Stadium, she was given another chance to embrace the glory she was denied two years before. 

Naomi Osaka won the US Open for the second time and it was her third career major. This time it was all about the tennis and the standard it was played at, against another champion in Victoria Azarenka.

It took Miss Osaka one hour 53 minutes and a tremendous fightback before eventually holding up the trophy 1-6, 6-3, 6-3. She was a point away from being down a set and 0-3, that is how well Miss Azarenka played in her first US Open final, and major final, for seven years. An achievement in itself worth applauding.

The reflection to 2018 was always going to be raised even though Miss Osaka made it clear she does on dwell on past matches. The personal growth of this young lady is truly outstanding, the way she has projected herself on and off the court in the last six months. She stands tall and she is destined to be the next leader for women’s tennis.

“This one feels different overall because of the circumstances I'm under,” Miss Osaka said. “I wasn't in a bubble last time. There were a lot of fans last time. Yeah, I feel like, you know, in the end all I focus on is what I can control on the tennis court. That's what I did last time. I feel like that's what I did this time.

“I don't really think about the past. Honestly, what's in my mind right now is what happened, like, an hour ago. It's different just because I feel like I'm a different person than I was back then.”

Her stand on race inequality has garnered a lot of attention and one might have considered that to be a distraction but maybe in a way that also helped her to deflect the pressures of play. It probably also went a way to keeping her composed and focused. Again, it highlighted the level of maturity that she has developed.

“I feel like for me I learn more through experiences,” she said. “Everyone sort of thinks they know, or I actually don't want to know how they're feeling or how they felt during the process. For me, I feel like sharing stories and hearing people's experiences is very valuable.”

When the last point was played the Japanese player, who is the highest earning female athlete in the world, lay down on the court and looked to the sky. 

She was taking it all in and explained that she was thinking about all the times she had watched the great players collapse on the ground and look to the sky. “I always wanted to see what they saw. For me it was really an incredible moment. I’m really glad I did it,” Miss Osaka added.

For Vika, it was a result that hurt. She made it clear that it did not leave her disappointed and it is not something that will sit with her. After all she has been through in her person life, dealing with custody battles, not being able to play enough, trying to make her way back, this is a testament to the strength of the mind and heart.

“I haven't had such results in quite a long time, so I'm very excited for it,” Miss Azarenka said. “Today, it's a loss (but) it doesn't change for me much. Of course, I would have loved to win today. It is what it is. I gave everything that I could today on the court. It didn't come my way. 

“But I'm very proud of the last three weeks that I've been here. I felt that I progressed a lot. I've played a lot of great matches. I felt that I've tested myself physically, mentally on very difficult stages.

“It's been great. I'm very proud of myself. I want to continue to keep going the same way, enjoy myself. It was a lot of fun for me to play, to be in the final of the US Open. I'm very grateful for this opportunity.”

After the negativity of two years ago, this time tennis is the winner big time. Game, set, match!