Osaka outclass Azarenka to win US Open
Osaka, the fourth seed, overcame her unseeded opponent 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 inside a near-empty Arthur Ashe Stadium at Flushing Meadows.
"I didn't really enjoy that. It was a really tough match for me," Osaka said following her 1hr 53min victory that delivers her prize money of $3 million.
The Japanese was uncharacteristically sloppy, hitting a whopping 13 unforced errors.
The momentum had quickly swung in Osaka's favor and she broke a third time to push the match to a deciding set.
"I just thought it would be very embarrassing to lose this in under an hour so I just have to try as hard as I can and stop having a really bad attitude," said Osaka, explaining the turnaround.
Azarenka saved four breakpoints to make it 4-2 as she battled to keep the contest alive.
When she broke Osaka in game seven, the set was back on serve.
- 'This was fun' -
After touching racquets with her opponent, Osaka lay down in the middle of the court and looked up at the sky in celebration.
"I always see everyone sort of collapse after match point. But I always think you may injure yourself so I wanted to do it safely," Osaka said.
The match was watched by just a few dozen people, mostly officials, journalists and event staff after the coronavirus pandemic forced the tournament to be held behind closed doors.
She also becomes the first Asian player to win three Grand Slams, overtaking China's Li Na on two.
Osaka had walked onto the court wearing a mask bearing the name of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African-American boy who was shot dead by a white police officer in Cleveland, Ohio in 2014.
Osaka, of Japanese and Haitian heritage, wore different masks honoring victims of racial injustice and police brutality in each round of the tournament.
She also donned face coverings bearing the names of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd and Philando Castile.
The last few years of the former world number one's career have been disrupted, firstly by injury then by a custody battle over her son, born in December 2016.
But she enjoyed a fairytale run in New York, clinching the Western & Southern title before reaching Saturday's US Open final, where she lost for the third time.
"I want to thank my team for sticking with me, for believing in me," Azarenka said.
"It's been a long road of getting here, but this was fun," she added.