At the 2020 U.S. Open, Naomi Osaka beat Victoria Azarenka 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the final round of the Women’s Singles match. This is the her third Grand Slam title, which includes the 2018 U.S. Open and the 2019 Australian Open.
Based in Los Angeles, Osaka represents Japan when she plays professionally. Her mother, Tamaki Osaka is Japanese and her father, Leonard Francois, is Haitian. On August 26, she publicly stated: “Before I am a athlete, I am a black woman. And 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.”
The 22-year-old posted the powerful statement on her social media, in English and in Japanese. She was responding to the continued violence towards Black people in America and joined several professional athletes in protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Washington.
“Watching the continued genocide of black people at the hand of police is honestly making me sick to my stomach… I’m extremely tired of having this same conversation over and over again. When will it ever be enough?” Osaka continued, explaining her decision to sit out the semifinal match last month.
During the seven final matches of the U.S. Open, Osaka walked onto the courts at Arthur Ashe stadium wearing a face mask in support of Black Lives Matter. Since September 1, she’s worn a customized mask commemorating the name of a Black person murdered by violence. For today’s final match, her custom mask said “Tamir Rice,” the 12-year-old who was killed by Cleveland police officer who thought the toy pellet gun Rice was holding was real.
Moments after her third Grand Slam win, Osaka was asked about the message she wanted to convey wearing seven masks with seven names to her final matches and she responded: “What was the message you got, is more of the question. I feel the point is to make people start talking.”
Osaka does have people talking. After an earlier U.S. Open match, ESPN played a special message from Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, who thanked her for wearing the name of her son. She wished Osaka well and to continue to “kick butt at the U.S. Open.” Ahmaud Arbery’s father Marcus Arbery also sent a message thanking her for her public support.
The tennis star responded to the heartfelt message by saying, “I feel that I’m a vessel at this point in order to spread awareness and hopefully it won’t dull the pain, but help with anything that they need.”
But Osaka did take note from Sybrina Fulton’s message and she did kick butt on the court. Sports giant Lebron James congratulated her epic win by tweeting “GREAT COMEBACK.”