Naomi Osaka
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Naomi Osaka wins U.S. Open, rallying for racial justice

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As Naomi Osaka lay on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court for 18 seconds after winning her second U.S. Open, staring into the sky, she recalled watching previous tennis greats do the same.

“I’ve always wanted to see what they saw,” she said after rallying past Belarus’ Victoria Azarenka 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.

So much else of what Osaka did on court the last two weeks was never before seen.

She walked into Ashe Stadium two Mondays ago for her first-round match wearing a black face mask. It bore the name Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was fatally shot by police on March 13.

After Osaka’s three-set opener, she felt confident enough to declare this publicly: she brought seven different masks to the tournament, one for each round through the final, with a different name of a Black person killed in recent years.

“It’s quite sad that seven masks isn’t enough for the amount of names,” Osaka said on Sept. 1, two days after withdrawing before the Western & Southern Open final with a left hamstring injury. “So, hopefully, I’ll get to the finals, and you can see all of them.”

We did. Taylor’s name was followed by Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile and, on Saturday, Tamir Rice.

Osaka, the pre-tournament favorite for the first U.S. Open held without ticketed fans, had an awful start to her third Grand Slam final.

Azarenka, a 31-year-old mom aiming to go a record seven years between major titles, won eight of the first nine games and was a point from going up 3-0 in the second set.

Osaka, developing a knack for clutch play in these settings, found the will that brought her back-to-back Slams at the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open. She won six of the next seven games to take the second set. She then handled a back-and-forth decider, breaking Azarenka and serving it out in the last two games.

“Two years ago I maybe would have folded,” said Osaka, who was marvelous in a 2018 U.S. Open final otherwise defined by Serena Williams‘ arguments with chair umpire Carlos Ramos. “I’m more of a complete player now.”

The 22-year-old with a Japanese mother and Haitian father became the first woman to win a U.S. Open final after losing the first set since Spaniard Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in 1994. She became the sixth woman to win her first three major finals in the Open Era (since 1968).

“All the credit to Naomi,” said Azarenka, the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open winner who made it past the fourth round of a Slam for the first time since having son Leo in December 2016 and beat Williams in the semifinals. “She’s a champion.”

Osaka has matured through struggle in the public eye as tennis’ first new global star in many years. And the first on the women’s side since Maria Sharapova emerged 16 years ago at the dawn of the social-media age (the Williams sisters already established by then).

At last year’s U.S. Open, Kobe Bryant and Colin Kaepernick were in her player box. She then moved to California, reportedly after buying Nick Jonas‘ Beverly Hills mansion for $6.9 million.

“I sort of forced myself to grow up a little bit,” Osaka said on ESPN on Saturday, “like doing my own laundry.”

Then in May, Forbes reported that Osaka supplanted Williams as the world’s highest-paid female athlete, racking up $37.4 million in prize money and endorsements in the last year.

But it had not been a particularly strong stretch on court. After winning the 2019 Australian Open and becoming world No. 1, Osaka parted with coach Sascha Bajin, attributing the move to putting happiness before success.

She didn’t make it past the fourth round of her next four Slams and was open about nerves and the weight of the top ranking. After losing in the first round of 2019 Wimbledon, her press conference ended like this:

Q. Has it been difficult to get used to the new level of fame that you have? You’ve pretty much become a global superstar over the past few months.
Osaka: Can I leave? I feel like I’m about to cry.

In her last tournaments before the pandemic, Osaka said she had “quite a few mental breakdowns” in the tour’s January swing in Australia. She was swept by then-15-year-old Coco Gauff in the third round in her Australian Open title defense.

Then everything stopped. No tennis tournaments for five months.

“It’s been an important few months,” Osaka said. “My life was always go, go tennis-wise, especially after the previous U.S. Open that I won. It definitely accelerated things, and I’ve never had a chance to slow down. The quarantine definitely gave me a chance to think a lot about things, what I want to accomplish, what I want people to remember me by.”

In May, three weeks before Floyd’s death led to renewed calls for change and protests, Osaka tweeted that she “was done being shy.” That sentiment was sparked by an encounter with Jay-Z and Beyonce in the offseason when she was unable to put sentences together.

“I have a lot of regrets before I go to sleep, and most of the regrets is due to, like, I don’t speak out about what I’m thinking,” Osaka said in a CNN interview on May 5.

Weeks later, after Floyd’s death, Osaka came out of her shell in other ways. She flew to Minneapolis with her boyfriend, rapper Cordae, to have her voice heard on the streets in peaceful protest.

“We grieved,” Osaka wrote in Esquire. “When I came back to Los Angeles, I signed petitions, I protested, and I donated, like many of us. But I kept asking myself what can I do to make this world a better place for my children? I decided it was time to speak up about systemic racism and police brutality.”

That article was published July 1. On Aug. 26, Osaka made perhaps the biggest statement of her tennis career by choosing not to play.

“Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman,” was posted on her social media, announcing she would not play the following day’s scheduled Western & Southern Open semifinal. She called for racial justice, which led to support from other players and the event stopping altogether for a day.

“There are more important matters at hand that need immediate attention,” Osaka posted. “I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction.”

At the U.S. Open, Osaka was a primary player at a major tournament without Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, without Novak Djokovic for the second week and without Williams on the final weekend.

After outlasting American Jennifer Brady in a three-set semifinal, she drove through New York streets on Friday crying. Osaka, born in Japan, spent early childhood years on Long Island.

“I remember everything my mom sacrificed when I was younger, and she couldn’t even watch my matches,” she said. “I have so many memories of her waking up at 4 in the morning, catching the bus, catching the train. I know all the sacrifices she made. Hopefully I can repay her one day.”

On Saturday afternoon, Osaka walked into Ashe Stadium like she did two Mondays ago, wearing a mask to raise awareness. She delivered for a championship unlike any other, even if she thought of others while lying on the court.

Minutes later, ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi asked Osaka what message she wanted to send these last two weeks.

“What was the message that you got?” Osaka answered on live TV to a global audience. “The point is to make people start talking.”

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Coco Gauff eliminated from French Open

Coco Gauff
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PARIS (AP) — American teenager Coco Gauff’s French Open debut ended in the second round after she double-faulted 19 times in a 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 loss to 159th-ranked qualifier Martina Trevisan.

Gauff double-faulted twice in the last game of the 2-hour, 11-minute match.

The 16-year-old Gauff has reached at least the third round at the other three major tournaments.

For Trevisan, a 26-year-old from Italy, this was her first victory in a Grand Slam match played to its conclusion.

She lost in the first round at the Australian Open this year in her first appearance at a major, then advanced Sunday at Roland Garros when her opponent, Camila Giorgi, stopped playing in the second set because of an injury.

Against Gauff, Trevisan kept yelling, “Yes!” and “Let’s go!” in Italian between points, then let out a high-pitched scream when the match ended.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Earlier, Defending champion Rafael Nadal reached the third round by beating American player Mackenzie McDonald 6-1, 6-0, 6-3.

The No. 2-seeded Spaniard is looking to win his record-extending 13th French Open title and equal Roger Federer’s men’s record of 20 major titles overall.

Nadal improved his record at Roland Garros to 95-2 when he sealed victory on his first match point. He next faces 74th-ranked Stefano Travaglia of Italy.

Sebastian Korda has now beaten two tour veterans in his first French Open.

After eliminating Andreas Seppi in his opening main draw match, the 20-year-old American qualifier took out 21st-seeded John Isner in the second round with a 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 win.

A former junior world No. 1 and winner of the boys title at the 2018 Australian Open — and the son of 1992 French Open finalist Petr Korda — Korda broke Isner’s normally dominant serve five times.

The No. 213-ranked Korda will next face either Mikhail Kukushkin or qualifier Pedro Martinez on Friday.

Also, No. 27-seeded American Taylor Fritz reached the third round by serving 16 aces in a straight-set victory over Radu Albot.

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Final postponed

Grand Prix Final
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The Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual international figure skating competition, will not take place as scheduled in December in Beijing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The International Skating Union announced Wednesday that the Final was postponed.

There were “a number of logistical points raised by potentially participating teams that meant that hosting the competitions on the scheduled dates (close to the end of year holidays and national championships) would have impacted on the number of participants, given the potential need to quarantine on returning to their home country,” according to the ISU.

The ISU is “evaluating the continuation” of the upcoming season and possible rescheduling of the competition in China, which doubles as a 2022 Beijing Olympic test event.

The Grand Prix Final, held every December after the six-event Grand Prix Series, is the biggest indicator of Olympic and world championships medal prospects.

The Grand Prix Series is still scheduled to start with Skate America in Las Vegas from Oct. 23-25.

Fields have not been announced, but skaters are restricted to compete at the event in their home nation or in or near their training location.

The ISU also announced that the remaining World Cup short track speed skating stops in 2020 were postponed or canceled — Seoul and Beijing, both in December.

Previously, the first short track World Cups in November were canceled. All four of the long-track speed skating World Cups scheduled this fall were also canceled.

The next scheduled World Cup short- or long-track events are in February.

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