Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka
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Naomi Osaka to miss French Open

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Naomi Osaka will miss the French Open that starts on Sept. 27, citing a sore hamstring and the tight turnaround from winning the U.S. Open last Saturday.

“My hamstring is still sore so I won’t have enough time to prepare for the clay — these 2 tournaments came too close to each other for me this time,” was posted on Osaka’s social media.

Osaka played U.S. Open matches with her left hamstring wrapped after withdrawing before the Western & Southern Open final last month due to a hamstring injury.

Osaka, who also won the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open, lost in the third round at Roland Garros the last two years.

Reigning French Open champion Ash Barty of Australia previously announced she will not play in Paris, citing health risks of traveling during the coronavirus pandemic and an inability to train with her coach, who is in a different Australian state.

The top women’s seeds at the French Open are expected to be Romanian Simona Halep and Czech Karolina Pliskova.

MORE: Slovenia is dominating the Tour de France

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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.”

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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Serena Williams ousted in U.S. Open semifinal by Victoria Azarenka

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Serena Williams‘ latest bid for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title was derailed by fellow mom Victoria Azarenka.

Azarenka prevailed 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, overcoming her rival from an era ago after Williams took a medical timeout early in the third set with a left Achilles injury. Williams played her most dominant tennis of the summer in the first set before Azarenka flipped the script in the second and kept pushing through the finish.

“I started really strong. Then she just kept fighting,” Williams said. “She just changed and started playing better and better. Maybe I took a little too much off the gas pedal at some point.”

Williams suffered the injury while serving and down 1-0 in the third set. She limped, went to her chair and had her always heavily wrapped foot and ankle worked on and rewrapped.

“It just overstretched. It was pretty intense,” she said. “It didn’t affect my play ultimately at all, just for that one point.”

Azarenka, who had already fought back from love-40 to 40-all in the game, won three of the next four points to break Williams.

From there, the Belarusian held serve four straight times to reach her first Grand Slam final in seven years and since having son Leo in December 2016. She improved to 1-10 against Williams in majors and reversed the 2012 U.S. Open final, when she served for the match in the third set and lost.

“My ego was way too big,” eight years ago, Azarenka said. “Now it’s a little smaller, and the results [are] coming.”

US OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

Azarenka, the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open champion, plays 2018 U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka in Saturday’s final. Earlier Thursday night, Osaka took out surging American Jennifer Brady 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-3 in a battle between the two most impressive players of the tournament.

Azarenka, who was due to play Osaka in an event final two weeks ago before Osaka withdrew with a left hamstring injury, looks to become the fourth mom to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open Era.

Williams hoped to join that club since returning from September 2017 childbirth and match Margaret Court‘s record for major singles titles. She lost finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2018 and 2019. She turns 39 in two weeks.

Every Slam is crucial. Every deep run and close miss leads followers to wonder how it affects Williams’ resolve.

“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that actually,” she said.

Her next chance will be the French Open that starts in two weeks. Williams, in not outright committing to the event on Monday, said that she had questions about health safety at the tournament that plans to allow up to 11,500 spectators per day.

Just after midnight on Friday, she provided an update.

“I’m definitely going to be going to Paris,” Williams said.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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