Naomi Osaka was forced to withdraw from the Western & Southern Open final in New York with a pulled hamstring, handing the title to Victoria Azarenka. Osaka faces a rush to recover in time for the US Open, starting on Monday.
“I’m sorry to have to withdraw today with an injury,” Osaka said in a statement. “I pulled my left hamstring yesterday in the second set tie-break 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.”
It marked the final twist to a dramatic week for Osaka, who on Wednesday followed the lead of the NBA in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake by refusing to compete in her semi-final against Elise Mertens. The tournament later responded by cancelling all play on Thursday and offering a “pause” in line with other US sports leagues.
Osaka is scheduled to face her compatriot Misaki Doi in the night session tomorrow, which she admitted is a daunting prospect. “I’m a bit stressed, but at the same time I feel like I have to keep forcing into my brain that I made the choice to come here, so I shouldn’t be stressed about it and I should just be happy to be playing in the first place.”
For Azarenka, her first title in four years was the culmination of an unexpected return to form in New York. A two-time Australian Open champion and former world No 1, Azarenka is currently ranked 59th and has struggled badly to rediscover form since returning to the tour after the birth of her son.
Off the court, she has been embroiled in a custody battle with her son’s father, which even forced her to miss the Australian Open this year.
She admitted this week that she had considered retirement before deciding to “try, last time, and see what happens”.
There was little reason to suggest that her fortunes would change after her 6-3, 6-2 first round loss to Venus Williams earlier this month.
“There is no magic,” said Azarenka. “There is just … when you do a lot of little things and they finally come together, sometimes you’re waiting for them, you work hard and it doesn’t go. But if you stick to it and believe that what you’re doing is right, you have trust in that, I think the things come together.”