It was nine days ago that Naomi Osaka made one of, if not the biggest statement of her tennis career by choosing not to play.
On court at the U.S. Open this week, Osaka consolidated pre-event favorite status by marching into the fourth round.
The 2018 Open champion’s latest win, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-2 over 137th-ranked Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk on Friday afternoon, set up her first match against a fellow seed on Sunday, No. 13 Anett Kontaveit.
Osaka had a chance to close out Kostyuk in straight sets. She lost the last four points of the second-set tiebreak and flung her racket across the baseline.
“While I was playing, honestly, I was cursing myself out,” she said. “You wouldn’t want to know what I was saying.”
As Osaka said in withdrawing during the Western & Southern Open last week, she is a Black woman before she is an athlete. Osaka’s decision not to play her scheduled semifinal at the pre-U.S. Open tournament, calling for racial justice, led to support from other players and the event stopping altogether for a day.
Osaka, who has a Haitian father and Japanese mother, was born in Japan, grew up in the U.S. and represents Japan, won the rescheduled semifinal. She then pulled out before the next day’s final with Victoria Azarenka due to a left hamstring injury.
Osaka was unsure what to expect at the U.S. Open given the short turnaround. Still, she had seven different face masks at the ready, one for each of her matches in case she made a run to the final.
On each mask is a name, revealed as the No. 4 seed walks on court. The first three — Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and Ahmaud Arbery.
“Google the name, research the story, find out exactly what’s going on,” Osaka said after her second-round win over Italian veteran Camila Giorgi on Wednesday. “I’m just trying to spread the story and spread awareness. I feel like it’s helping. I hope it’s helping.”
Osaka, who flew to Minneapolis in the spring to pay respect to George Floyd and have her voice heard on the streets, endures after what she called an emotional week before the Open. She swept Giorgi and outlasted Kostyuk with that hamstring wrapped.
“I don’t really pay attention too much,” she said when asked before Friday’s match about the injury. “Obviously it’s not 100 percent, but for me, I’m here right now, so I’m fit enough to play.”
And ready to continue using her platform.
“It’s quite sad that seven masks isn’t enough for the amount of names,” Osaka said after her first-round win. “Hopefully, I’ll get to the finals, and you can see all of them.”
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