Naomi Osaka used her first-round match at the US Open to send a message, one that she plans to repeat for as long as she’s playing in the two-week tennis tournament.
Osaka, 22, wore a black mask bearing the name of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was shot to death by police in March in Louisville when she took the court Monday on Day 1 of the tournament. She arrived for the U.S. Open with seven masks, one for each round of the tournament and each bearing the name of a victim of violence.
“I’m aware that tennis is watched all over the world, and maybe there is someone that doesn’t know Breonna Taylor’s story,” Osaka, the No. 4 seed in the tournament, told reporters after her 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 victory over Misaki Doi.
“Maybe they’ll Google it or something. For me, [it’s] just spreading awareness. I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interesting or interested they’ll become in it.”
“It’s quite sad that seven masks aren’t enough for the number of names,” said Osaka, the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open champion. “Hopefully I’ll get to the finals and you can see all of them.”
Last week, Osaka was one of a number of athletes across the NBA and other sports who opted not to compete after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha police officer. She refused to play in a semifinal of the Western & Southern Open and agreed to continue after the tournament shut down for a day. She won Friday and ended up pulling out of Saturday’s final against Victoria Azarenka because of a hamstring injury.
Osaka, whose parents are from Japan and Haiti, grew up mostly in Florida and explained her decision last week, saying, “I felt like I needed to raise my voice.” When she took the court Friday for her semifinal, she wore a black T-shirt with the image of a fist and “Black Lives Matter” on it.
“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,” Osaka tweeted August 26.
“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. Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach.”