Naomi Osaka is now a two-time U.S. Open champion and three-time major champion after coming back from a set down to defeat Victoria Azarenka in Saturday’s women’s final. But even if she hadn’t completed the rally, a lot of the viewing public would still think of her as a champion, but of something much more significant than tennis.
Every time Osaka took the court for a match in the tournament these past two weeks, seven times in all, she wore a face mask that displayed the name of a Black person who was killed, in most instances by police. On Saturday, the name was Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy shot dead in Cleveland in 2014.
Osaka’s victory will allow her to amplify her message against police brutality, and the first opportunity arrived when she was interviewed on the court by ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi following her victory. Asked what message she wanted to send with the masks, Osaka turned the question around.
“Well, ‘What was the message that you got?’ was more the question,” she asked in response.
Rinaldi did not give an answer, instead asking a follow-up question. Osaka expanded on her thoughts.
“I’ve been inside of the bubble so I’m not sure what’s really going on in the outside world,” the 22-year-old titlist said. “All I can tell is what’s going on in social media and, for me, I feel like, the more retweets it gets — that’s so lame — but, you know, the more people talk about it.”
Osaka’s playing ability will afford her a regular platform at upcoming majors. Her next opportunity for statements will come at the French Open in Paris beginning Sept. 21.
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