Naomi Osaka won her second U.S. Open title in three years after defeating Victoria Azarenka in three sets, earning her the third major title of her career. As reported by ESPN, not only did Osaka manage to draw attention to the U.S. Open with her on-court performance, but she also drew attention to racial injustice and police brutality off the tennis court.
After Azarenka won the first set in only 27 minutes, Osaka quickly collected herself to make a comeback in the second and third sets. The young star made history with the comeback, as no player had won the U.S. Open women’s final after losing the first set since Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario did it in 1994.
“I just start thinking point by point,” Osaka said regarding her focus during the match. “I wasn’t really thinking about winning after a certain while. I just thought about, ‘I came here with a goal, I’m playing in the final, a lot of people want to be in this final, so I can’t lose 6-1, 6-0.'”
Osaka received praise from successful athletes on Twitter, like LeBron James and Lindsey Vonn, after she was crowned champion.
GREAT COMEBACK!! Congrats @naomiosaka! ????????✊????
— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 12, 2020
— lindsey vonn (@lindseyvonn) September 12, 2020
However, some criticized Osaka and whether or not she could successfully be a professional athlete while simultaneously being an activist.
“She has shown more and more confidence about speaking up,” Billie Jean King, a tennis legend and renowned social justice advocate, remarked.
“I really admire what she’s done. Sports is a platform, and women’s tennis, we are the leaders in women’s sports, and Naomi has really stepped up,” King also said of the actions the athlete took.
According to CNN, in each of her seven matches, Osaka wore a face covering featuring the name of a Black victim of alleged racist or police violence in the U.S. The 22-year-old wore the names of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile, and Tamir Rice.
“For me, just spreading awareness. I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interesting or interested they’ll become in it,” Osaka explained regarding the meaning behind wearing the face coverings.
The first mask Osaka wore in the tournament had Breonna Taylor’s name on it. Osaka told reporters that she had started with that specific name because she felt it was the most important. The tennis star wanted to utilize her platform to spread awareness about racial injustice around the world.
During an interview after her championship win, she was asked about the stance she took throughout the tournament, as you can see below.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 12, 2020