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Novak Djokovic wins Western & Southern Open; Naomi Osaka pulls out with injury

Novak Djokovic holds the trophy after defeating Milos

Novak Djokovic holds the trophy after defeating Milos Raonic at the Western & Southern Open on Saturday in Flushing Meadows. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

Novak Djokovic stayed undefeated for the year on Saturday, running his record to 23-0 after  he defeated Milos Raonic in the final of the Western & Southern Open at the National Tennis Center.

Naomi Osaka didn’t get a chance to win her first title of the year at the W&S, pulling out of the championship match with a bad hamstring and giving Victoria Azarenka the title in a walkover. 

It’s been quite the week for Osaka, who originally decided to pull out of the semifinals to protest the Jacob Blake shooting. Her actions prompted the USTA, ATP and WTA to decide jointly to pause the tournament on Thursday, and Osaka then agreed to play the semifinal on Friday where she defeated Elise Mertens. It was in that match that she hurt her left hamstring in the second set. 

“For me, I feel like I played very good matches,” Osaka said. “I feel like I learned a lot, and definitely a lot off the court has also happened this week. So I think I'm just happy with how I managed everything and how I was still able to focus on, you know, when I was playing the matches.” 

It has also been quite a week for Djokovic, the world’s No. 1 player and the clear favorite heading in the U.S. Open starting on Monday. He has had to cope with a neck problem, a stomach problem, a three-hour match in the semis against Roberto Bautista Agut and the hard serving of Raonic who played at a high level.   

Djokovic is also part of a movement to create an association of ATP players, a union-like organization, with news of the movement coming  to the fore this week.

“There's been a lot of off-court things that I kind of had to be involved indirectly or indirectly,” Djokovic said.  “It was not easy, definitely, especially in the last three, four days.  Has been challenging mentally and emotionally for me to stay sane and be able to compete on the highest level and win this title . . . My physiotherapist did a great job and also [the] physio from ATP, they made sure that I'll be able to play and compete.”   

After a sluggish start, Djokovic’s unparalleled defensive game kicked into gear. He is by far the best defensive player in the game, and that includes returning serve. Raonic often exceeded 130 MPH with his first serve, and in the first set it carried him to an easy win. Then Djokovic picked up the timing, pounded some offensive returns and turned the match around. 

Djokovic has won all 11 matches he’s played against Raonic. With the victory he became the first player to win all nine ATP Masters 1000 titles twice and tied Rafael Nadal’s mark of 35 Masters titles overall. It was Djokovic’s 80th career title, fifth on the all-time list.  

Azarenka, 31, last won a title in 2016 when she had a big year with back-to-back wins at Indian Wells and Miami. She won the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013 and lost in the U.S. Open finals that year, losing both times to Serena Williams.   After giving birth to son Leo in late 2016 she became involved in a messy child custody case in 2017 with boyfriend Billy McKeague that significantly impacted her ability to play. Now, at age 31, she seems to have found peace.

“It's my first title as a mom,” Azarenka said.  “I haven't even thought about it.  So that makes it special.”    The 31-year-old has had trouble mustering the fire to keep going, and considered retiring before this truncated season started. But she gave it go, and it’s worked out better than she thought.

"I think the key point for me is when some things doesn’t work out, it doesn't maybe affect you as much,” Azarenka said after beating Johanna Konta in the semis.  “I think people look at the result as magical week.  I look more of how I feel and whatI do on a daily basis.  I'm joyful.”

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