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After one errant forehand in the first set of the US Open final, Osaka looked at her coach in the mostly empty Arthur Ashe Stadium stands with palms up, as if to say, “What the heck is happening?”.
In response to another wayward forehand against Azarenka seconds later, Osaka chucked her racket. It spun a bit and rattled against the court.
Surprisingly off-kilter in the early going Sunday (AEST), Osaka kept missing shots and digging herself a deficit.
Until, suddenly, she lifted her game, and Azarenka couldn’t sustain her start. By the end, Osaka pulled away to a 1-6 6-3 6-3 comeback victory for her second US Open championship and third grand slam title overall.
A quarter-century had passed since the last time the woman who lost the first set of a US Open final wound up winning: In 1994, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario did it against Steffi Graf.
This one was a back-and-forth affair. Even after Osaka surged ahead 4-1 in the third set, the outcome was unclear. She held four break points in the next game - convert any of those, and she would have served for the win at 5-1 - but Azarenka didn’t flinch.
Azarenka held there, somehow, and broke to get to 4-3, then stood and stretched during the ensuing changeover.
But Osaka regained control, breaking to start a match-ending run of three games, covering her face when the final was over.
Osaka, a 22-year-old born in Japan and now based in the United States, added to her trophies from the 2018 US Open - earned with a brilliant performance in a memorably chaotic final against Serena Williams - and 2019 Australian Open.
While fans were not allowed to attend because of the coronavirus pandemic, dozens of people who worked at the tournament did - and the cavernous place was not entirely silent, just mostly so.
Osaka stepped onto the court wearing a black mask with the name of Tamir Rice, a black 12-year-old boy killed by police in Ohio in 2014.
She arrived in New York with seven masks bearing the names of black victims of violence and wore a different one for each match, honouring Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Philando Castile.
She has been at the forefront of efforts in tennis to bring awareness to racial injustice in the United States.
Osaka and her coach have said they think the off-court activism has helped her energy and mindset in matches.