Saturday, August 29, 2020

Osaka pulls out of final with injury; Djokovic takes title

Victoria Azarenka won her first singles title since
2016 and 21st overall. File photo by Paul Bauman
Naomi Osaka withdrew from today's final against Victoria Azarenka in the Western & Southern Open with a hamstring injury.

The fourth-seeded Osaka defeated 14th-seeded Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-2, 7-6 (5) at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., on Friday.

"I'm sorry to have to withdraw today with an injury," Osaka, 22, of Japan said on wtatennis.com. "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."

The semifinal against Mertens was scheduled for Thursday, but Osaka, who's Black with a Haitian father and Japanese mother, staged a one-day boycott to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake, an African-American, by police in Kenosha, Wis. All of Thursday's matches then were postponed until Friday.

Osaka is scheduled to play countrywoman Misaki Doi on Monday night (ESPN2) in the first round of the U.S. Open at the National Tennis Center. Osaka won the first of her two Grand Slam singles titles in the 2018 U.S. Open, stunning Serena Williams in a tumultuous final.

Osaka made her WTA main-draw debut in the 2014 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 2014, stunning 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur. 

The unseeded Azarenka, a 31-year-old mother and two-time Australian Open champion, claimed her first singles title since Miami in April 2016 and 21st overall. The former world No. 1 played only two tournaments between May of that year and March 2018 because of her pregnancy and a subsequent child custody dispute, plummeting to No. 978 in May 2017. 

Azarenka will soar 32 places to No. 27 in Monday's world rankings. Osaka, also formerly ranked No. 1, will rise one notch to No. 9. 

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic beat unseeded Milos Raonic 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 for his second Western & Southern title, tying Rafael Nadal's record of 35 Masters 1000 crowns. The only player to win all nine ATP Masters 1000 titles, Djokovic now has claimed them all twice. He improved to 23-0 this year, 26-0 dating to last November and 11-0 against the hard-serving Raonic.

Djokovic, 33, was coming off a grueling 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (0) victory in 3 hours over eighth-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain on Saturday. 

Djokovic was treated for a neck problem twice during the second set and in his second-round victory over Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania. Late in Friday's match, Djokovic held his stomach, panted between points and bent over in apparent exhaustion.

As if all that isn't enough, Djokovic and former top-30 player Vasek Pospisil of Canada are trying to form a new group to represent men's professional players.

If healthy, Djokovic is strongly favored to win his fourth U.S. Open singles title. He is scheduled to open against No. 107 Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina on Monday at 4 p.m. PDT (ESPN2), followed by Osaka against Doi.

Nadal, who won his fourth U.S. Open title last year, is skipping this year's tournament because of coronavirus concerns. Roger Federer, who captured his five Flushing Meadows titles consecutively (2004-08), will miss the rest of the season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee for the second time this year.

Raonic, who played in his first final since losing to Roger Federer on grass in Stuttgart in June 2018, will rise 12 spots to No. 18 on Monday. He has been plagued by injuries since reaching the 2016 Wimbledon final, losing to Andy Murray, and ascending to a career-high No. 3 that November.

Raonic won three of his eight career ATP singles titles in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose, Calif. He never lost a set in the tournament, winning the last three titles (2011, 2012 and 2013).

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