A report by Adam Zagoria for Forbes.
Naomi Osaka had seven masks honoring African-American victims of police violence made for this U.S. Open.
She wore her fifth mask honoring George Floyd for Tuesday’s 6-3, 6-4 quarterfinal victory over American Shelby Rogers.
No. 4 seed Osaka, the 2018 U.S. Open champion, will appear in one more mask for the semifinals on Thursday against another American, former UCLA star Jen Brady, and ultimately hopes to showcase the seventh for Saturday’s championship match, potentially against 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in what would be a rematch of the 2018 final.
“I have seven [masks],” Osaka said last week in her on-court interview. “It’s quite sad that seven masks isn’t enough for the amount of names [of Black people killed by members of law enforcement], so hopefully, I’ll get to the finals and you can see all of them.”
Osaka has so far worn masks honoring Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin and Floyd.
Floyd died on May 25 in Minneapolis after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. Chauvin was arrested and charged with 3rd-degree murder and manslaughter.
Asked by ESPN’s Rennae Stubbs how she selects the mask for each match, Osaka said, “Honestly, I surprise myself sometimes. I think I’m going to choose this, but no. For me, it’s whatever I feel. It’s like a feeling I have inside.”
Following her victory last Friday over 18-year-old Marta Kostyuk of the Ukraine, Osaka said:
“I would like everyone to know that it was completely avoidable. This did not have to happen. None of these deaths had to happen. And for me, I feel like I just want everyone to know the names more.”
Against Rogers, Osaka took the first set and then broke Rogers for 2-1 in the second when Rogers smacked a backhand wide on break point.
Osaka closed the match out at 5-4 on her serve, winning in 1 hour, 19 minutes when Rogers smacked a forehand into the net.
In terms of her semifinal matchup against Brady, who is 10-1 since the restart, Osaka said: “I think she’s a really amazing player. She has the variety that I wish I had so I’m a bit jealous. But yeah, she’s super-nice and I think it’s going to be a really tough match and we’re both going to try out best.”
Two weeks ago, Osaka led a day-long protest of the Western & Southern Open after the shooting by police of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. She later said she wanted to make her old friend Kobe Bryant “proud.”
Osaka’s efforts to take a stand for social justice and against police violence has caught the attention of the sports world, including human rights pioneer and tennis legend Billie Jean King, for whom the USTA National Tennis Center is named.
“She has shown more and more confidence about speaking up,” King said last week on ESPN. “She’s very quiet and calm but internally you can tell she’s on fire and thinking about things.
“I really admire her for doing what she has done. And also sports is a platform. And we’re very fortunate, women’s tennis, we are the leaders in women’s sports and Naomi has really stepped up.”
As Osaka pursues her second U.S. Open title and third major crown, King said she has shown an ability to compartmentalize and separate tennis from activism, something she will need to do if she’s to win four more matches.
“You’ve got to be able to just focus on the task at hand and right now it’s playing tennis and it’s winning this match and really isolate one ball at a time and not think about her activism or anything else,” King said. “Right now she’s a tennis player.”
And with two more wins, she’ll be a Grand Slam champion again.