On Saturday, Naomi Osaka won the US Open, beating Victoria Azarenka 1-6, 6-3, 6-3. The win is her third Grand Slam title, and the second time she has claimed the US Open title in her young career.
The 22-year-old is undoubtedly near the top of her game, rising this week to be World No.3 behind only Ash Barty and Simona Halep. She’s also growing into herself as person, finding her voice on social issues like the Black Lives Matter movement.
Over recent months, Osaka has used her growing influence on social media to speak to the issues that matter to her. And she’s quickly become tennis’ leading voice.
She’s posted images and videos of herself taking part in protests after the police killing of George Floyd.
Just weeks ago, she withdrew from the Western & Southern Open semi-final, striking in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, along with other sportspeople and teams across the US who similarly boycotted games.
“Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman,” she offered on social media.
Osaka was the first person to strike in the tennis world, and her action quickly prompted the entire sport to follow suit, with the tournament cancelled for a day.
In each of her seven US Open matches, she wore a different mask with the names of Black people who had been killed by police violence. When asked to clarify what her message was after wearing 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s name on her mask, she made an excellent point.
“‘What was the message that you got?’ is more the question,” she said. “I feel like the point is to make people start talking.”
In May this year, Forbes named Osaka the highest-paid female athlete on the planet, with her earnings eclipsing that of tennis legend Serena Williams.
Around the same time, Osaka wrote on Twitter that she was “done being shy”.
“It’s really a waste of my time. I could’ve shared so many ideas by now… but no I’m over here actually putting my own limiter on myself.”
It appears that Osaka has truly shed any limitations she had placed on herself previously, with her actions these past months speaking louder than ever before.
She told ESPN that her desire to show the world the names of those who had been victims of police violence pushed her physical game and helped her come through with the win.
“It made me stronger,” she said. “Because I had more desire to win, because I want to show more names, and I want people to talk about it more.”
I would like to thank my ancestors because everytime I remember their blood runs through my veins I am reminded that I cannot lose.— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) September 13, 2020
Osaka’s activism takes courage, and it helps that she walks in the footsteps of the Williams’s sisters, who have always dedicated time in their careers to speak out on issues like racial justice and gender equality. The sisters’ years of leadership in tennis has created plenty of space for Osaka to shine and be accepted.
After she was crowned US Open champion at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Osaka took a moment to take it all in. She laid down on the court and looked up at the open sky. Later, when Osaka was asked what she was thinking in that moment, she said:
“I was thinking about all the times I’ve watched the great players sort of collapse onto the ground and look up into the sky. I’ve always wanted to see what they saw.”
“For me, it was really an incredible moment. I’m really glad I did it.”
The thing is, Osaka is already one of tennis’ great players. And it looks like she’s ready to lead the sport into the future.
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