Naomi Osaka won her third grand slam as she made an exceptional comeback in the US Open final against Victoria Azarenka, on September 12th 2020. Osaka found herself in trouble when she dropped her first set losing 6-1 and was trailing behind her experienced opponent.
She has now become the first player in 26 years to win a US Open women’s singles final after losing the opening set. This is not the first time Osaka has paved the way throughout her career. In early 2019 she became the first Asian player to hold the top tennis singles ranking.
Although Osaka’s pure athleticism and strong determination has made headlines, it is not what has really caused waves amongst tennis players and people around the world. Instead people have come out to support and praise her support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and how she astutely used her sports career to further a more important agenda for social justice and human rights.
To express her support for the movement, she wore seven black masks during her matches, each with the name of an African American who was murdered as a result of police brutality. To name a few, in her opening round of the US Open she wore a mask in honour of Breonna Taylor, a woman who was shot and killed by an American police officer in her own home.
She also wore a George Floyd mask to represent the death that reignited the movement and highlighted for many how prevalent racially-influenced police brutality attacks are in America. Seven individual names were displayed on her masks, each win for Osaka highlighted a different injustice.
This is not the first time in which Osaka used her passion for the sport to vocally express her disdain for racism. Osaka pulled out of her semi-final match at the Western & Southern Open in reaction to the death of Jacob Blake, an African American man who was shot seven times in the back as he opened the door to his SUV. Inside the car his three children watched on.
Osaka released a statement on her absence from the tournament on her social media accounts in which she said; “As a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis.”
When Osaka answered at an interview conference what formed her perspective of racial justice and her activism, Osaka told the interviewer that it came from her dad encouraging her to embrace her Haitian culture. “Honestly, I’ve read a lot into Haitian history, my Dad always talks about that.”
She then added “I try not to get my information from the news, I try to form my own opinion.”
Laoise Murray – Sports writer