NEW YORK—Tennis star Naomi Osaka captured the 2020 US Open Women’s championship, defeating Victoria Azarenka, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 on Sept. 12. And while the tennis phenom is being applauded for amassing another title, she is also being recognized on the court for bringing attention to social justice and the unjust killings of Black people by police and vigilantes.
Before and after her first-round victory at the US Open, Ms. Osaka wore a mask bearing the name of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was fatally shot by police.
It’s just one of seven face coverings, each in honor of a different person, that Ms. Osaka brought to Flushing Meadows—the same number of wins it takes to claim a Grand Slam trophy. The world’s highest-earning female athlete hopes she can get the chance to raise awareness about racial injustice by using each mask during her stay in New York.
“It’s quite sad that seven masks isn’t enough for the amount of names, so hopefully I’ll get to the finals so you can see all of them,” said Ms. Osaka, the champion at the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open.
“I’m aware that tennis is watched all over the world, and maybe there is someone that doesn’t know Breonna Taylor’s story. Maybe they’ll, like, Google it or something,” Ms. Osaka said. “For me, (it’s about) just spreading awareness. I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interesting or interested they’ll become in it.”
She also wore masks honoring Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery. She received messages of thanks from families of those she honored and was moved by their kind sentiments.
“Thank you for the support on my family and God bless you for what you’re doing and you’re supporting our family with my son. And my family really, really appreciates that and God bless you,” said Marcus Arbery, Sr., father of Ahmaud Arbery in a video message to the tennis star.
“I just want to say thank you to Naomi Osaka for representing Trayvon Martin on your customized mask,” his mother Sybrina Fulton, expressed. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Continue to do well, continue to kick butt at the US Open,” said Ms. Fulton.
Ms. Osaka who is of Japanese and Haitian descent took a bold stance last month when she dropped out of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio, before her semi-final match. The 22 year old dropped out at the last minute to protest police violence. “Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach,” Ms. Osaka said in a statement on Twitter. The fourth ranked female tennis player and Grand Slam champ added, “Before I am an 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.”
(Associated Press and Final Call staff contributed to this report.)