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Naomi Osaka: a true champion of tennis and human rights

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Where will this year’s US Open tennis grand slam be remembered?

Will it be the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic that caused some of the top male and female players to withdraw due to health fears and fans being unable to attend the New York event?

Could it be that Dominic Thiem finally broke his big duck by coming back from two sets and beating Alexander Zverev in the men’s final?

Or will it be how a 22-year-old from Japan became the women’s champion again, but also emerged as one of the most influential personalities in the sports world?

Naomi Osaka may have won her third grand slam and second US Open title with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Victoria Azarenka in the women’s final on Saturday. However, the New York triumph will be remembered for much more than just her talent on the tennis court.

Enough was finally enough

Osaka, which also won the US Open in 2018, has made headlines in New York in recent weeks by taking a stand in support of protests against racial inequality.

She forced a break in play at the Western & Southern Open, The Guardian reported, by initially withdrawing from the semifinals to participate in the widespread boycott by stars of several American sports.

After that, she wore face masks with the name of another black victim of alleged police or racial violence in the US for each of her seven matches at the grand slam. CNN said. The names highlighted were: Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile and Tamir Rice.

The BBC reports that the murder of George Floyd was the first sign that Osaka was starting to find her voice.

In an opinion piece for Esquire magazine, Osaka explained why she flew to Minneapolis days after Floyds’s death and how she felt a call to action. She wrote: My heart ached. Enough was finally enough.

Born to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, she happened to be in the Japanese city of Osaka, she moved with her family to New York when she was three and spent her formative years growing up in the United States.

In the Esquire article, she admits that for as long as I can remember, people have struggled to define me.

She said, I never really fit in one description – but people label me that quickly. Is she Japanese? American? Haitian? Black? Asian? Well, I’m all these things together at once.

I was born in Osaka, Japan to a Haitian father and Japanese mother. I am a daughter, sister, boyfriend and girlfriend. I am Asian, I am black and I am female. I’m as normal 22 year old as everyone else, except that I happen to be good at tennis. I have accepted myself as myself: Naomi Osaka.

Naomi Osaka wore a mask with George Floyd's name on it during the US Open
Top of her game

The sports world often creates icons and this year Osaka has become not only one of the best tennis players at the US Open, but also an activist and person of great influence.

She proved herself a champion on and off the field, says The Guardian, and by wearing masks to highlight racial inequality, it shows the kind of mental strength that ties the US Open winners game together.

Meanwhile, Agenda for women magazine says she is undoubtedly near the top of her game and also growing within herself as a person, finding her voice on social issues like the Black Lives Matter movement.

Relatives of victims sent messages to congratulate Osaka on her triumph, while figures from the sports world also hailed the Japanese star. Tennis icon Martina Navratilova said social justice and sports go together – and quite nicely while NBA star LeBron James praised Osaka for her great comeback.

Desire to win

The last word must go to the champion himself. After the final against Azarenka, Osaka said the experiences of the past six months gave her the drive to win. It made me stronger, she said ESPN. Because I wanted to win more, because I want to show more names.

When asked what message would be sent with the masks, she turned the question to her interviewer, Yahoo reports. What was the message you got? she said. The point is to get people to talk.

Judging by the media response and fan posts, Osaka has accomplished just that and more.



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