NAOMI OSAKA, brilliantly combining activism with aces, produced an epic US Open final comeback to win a third tennis Slam.
The highest-paid female athlete in the world banked £2.3million as she fought back from a set down to beat Victoria Azarenka 1-6 6-3 6-3 in the Flushing Meadows final.
It was the first time since Arantxa Sanchez Vicari’s success against Steffi Graf 26 years ago that a woman had won in three sets in New York after losing the first.
The triumph follows her major victories at the US Open two years ago and in Australia in 2019 and underlines her status as the star of this generation.
Japan’s Osaka marked the win by lying flat on the floor of the Arthur Ashe stadium for several seconds. She said: “I didn’t enjoy that, it was a really tough match. I wouldn’t be here without my team or family.
“I always see people collapse after match point but I think you might injure yourself so I went down on the floor safely.
“I thought it would be embarrassing to lose in under an hour and had to stop having a really bad attitude.”
Osaka, 22, arrived on court wearing a mask bearing the name Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black kid shot and killed by a white police officer in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2014, while he played with a toy gun.
In each round of the tournament she has worn a different mask, honouring an African-American whose death has shocked a divided nation and become prominent during the Black Lives Matters movement.
It has been a commendable way to use her global platform and spark impactful calls for racial equality and societal change.
In a sport that has a long history of trailblazers and human rights activists, Osaka is using her voice to make a real difference off the court.
She said: “What was the message that you got was more the question.
“I feel the point of the masks is to make people start talking. I am not sure what is happening outside this bubble.
“All I can tell is what is happening on social media. The more retweets it gets, the more people talk about it.”
Osaka, her left thigh heavily strapped up, could not have envisaged the first set going as horribly wrong as this.
Belarusian Azarenka, 31, raced into a 6-1 lead on 27 minutes and was intending to win in record-breaking time in her first Slam final since becoming a mum.
At 2-0 up in the second set, Azarenka could not believe her situation and was returning like a dream.
Yet Osaka had other ideas, asserting herself in the match, nailing her groundstrokes, and managed to take the victory in the deciding third set.
Gutted Azarenka added: “I thought third time was a charm. But I guess I will have to try again. I hope we can meet in some finals again.”
BRITS Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid won a fourth straight wheelchair men’s double final as they beat Frenchmen Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer 6-4 6-1.