Where EAST meets the Northwest
Asian Reporter web extra, September 13, 2020
Naomi Osaka of Japan returns a shot to Victoria Azarenka of Belarus during
the womenís singles final of the US Open tennis championships on Saturday,
September 12, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Naomi Osaka of Japan holds up the championship trophy after defeating
Victoria Azarenka of Belarus in the womenís singles final of the US Open tennis
championships on Saturday, September 12, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank
Naomi Osaka of Japan hits balls into the stands after defeating Anett
Kontaveit of Estonia during the fourth round of the US Open tennis championships
on Monday, September 7, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Analysis: Naomi Osaka is poised to lead tennis on, off court
By Howard Fendrich
The Associated Press
September 13, 2020
NEW YORK (AP) ó Naomi Osaka is at the top of tennis right now, poised to lead
the way on the court ó and off it ó for years to come.
Still just 22, she already owns three Grand Slam titles after winning the
U.S. Open. All were claimed in a span of the past seven major tournaments,
thanks primarily to her big serve and forehand and an ability to think her way
out of trouble.
Then thereís this: Osaka is demonstrating a willingness to speak out about
racial injustice, becoming her sportís leading voice.
Osaka, whose father is Haitian and mother is Japanese, put a spotlight on the
issue by declaring she would walk out of a tune-up tournament last month, then
by wearing masks with names of Black victims of violence to her U.S. Open
After coming back to beat Victoria Azarenka 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the final at
Flushing Meadows on Saturday, Osaka drew a direct line between who she is as a
player and who she is as a person ó and how success in one realm can affect the
"For me, I felt like it made me stronger, because I felt like I have more
desire to win," Osaka said on ESPN, "because I want to show more names and I
want people to talk about it more."
In a way, Osakaís emergence can be viewed as a fitting tribute to Billie Jean
King and the rest of the Original 9, 1Ĺ weeks before the 50th anniversary of
their signing $1 contracts for a women-only tournament, paving the way for
todayís Womenís Tennis Association (WTA) tour and equal prize money at Grand
Itís also a reminder of Kingís philosophy, expressed this way in an interview
with The Associated Press this year: "I knew if I wasnít No. 1 that nobody would
Osaka showed up for her first-round match at the U.S. Open wearing a black
mask with white lettering spelling out the name of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman
fatally shot in her apartment by police in Kentucky. Osaka explained she brought
seven face coverings ó one for each match if she reached the final.
"Iím aware that tennis is watched all over the world, and maybe there is
someone that doesnít know Breonna Taylorís story. Maybe theyíll, like, Google it
or something," she said. "For me, (itís about) just spreading awareness."
She added the name of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy killed by police in Ohio
in 2014, on Saturday to the list of victims she honored: Elijah McClain, Trayvon
Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Philando Castile.
Asked what her message was, Osaka turned the query around.
"ĎWhat was the message that you got?í is more the question," she replied. "I
feel like the point is to make people start talking."
Osaka got the conversation going in tennis when she said she would withdraw
from her semifinal at the Western & Southern Open ó a tournament moved from Ohio
to New York ahead of the U.S. Open to form a two-event "controlled environment"
to limit travel amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Tournament officials followed her lead and called off a dayís play entirely.
"This is like an extra motivation, as you know. Itís a very important topic
for her," said Osakaís coach, Wim Fissette.
"Itís very important to have big personalities like Naomi to make a change,
hopefully, one day. I think itís a great thing that she does. For sure with
wearing the masks, she wants to be role model," Fissette said. "But also, she
knows that it has to go together with (being a) role model on court. So itís a
good combination. Role model off court; also great attitude on court. That goes
Against Azarenka, Osaka hit six aces and 17 forehand winners. She won 15 of
the 23 points that lasted at least nine strokes.
Most impressive, though, Osaka cast aside a terrible initial half-hour,
realized she needed to be more aggressive ó crowding the baseline to redirect
shots more quickly, taking time away from Azarenka ó and became the first woman
in 26 years to win a U.S. Open final after dropping the first set.
After it ended, the last shot struck and the championship hers, Osaka calmly
set down her racket on the sideline with a smile, walked back onto the court and
eased herself down, laying on her back and glancing overhead.
"I was thinking about all the times Iíve watched the great players sort of
collapse onto the ground and look up into the sky. Iíve always wanted to see
what they saw," Osaka said. "For me, it was really an incredible moment. Iím
really glad I did it."
She was thrilled she had earned the trophy. Tennis should be thrilled it has
Howard Fendrich covers tennis for The Associated Press.
Read the current issue of The Asian Reporter in its entirety!
Go to <www.asianreporter.com/completepaper.htm>!