Naomi Osaka, wins U.S. Open Title number two, while rallying for Social Justice

Naomi Osaka celebrates with the championship trophy after beating Victoria Azarenka in the women's final of the U.S. Open on Saturday in New York. | USA TODAY / VIA REUTERS

In what look like there was nearly an empty court on Saturday, as it has been throughout this unusual U.S. Open where fans were not permitted because of the coronavirus pandemic, Naomi Osaka claimed the US Open women’s singles title after going a set down after she beat Victoria Azarenka 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 to add to her 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open titles.

The little crowd that was in attendance never became a factor, and though Osaka started very slowly against Azarenka, she gradually found her range and became the first player in 26 years to win a U.S. Open women’s singles final after losing the first set.

The last player to manage it was Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, who rallied to defeat Steffi Graf in 1994. The twenty two year old, who represents Japan and is based in the United States, is 3-0 in Grand Slam singles finals. With her huge serve, powerful groundstrokes and improved fitness, she appeared ready to take command of the women’s game when she won the 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open and became No. 1.

Meanwhile her victory in the U.S. Open has been hailed by media and officials in Japan who broadly welcomed her campaigning for victims of racial injustice and against police brutality. Public broadcaster NHK broke into its regular programming to flash the news of the 22-year-old’s latest Grand Slam triumph.

“Osaka achieved the feat of winning a record third title in the Grand Slam singles as an Asian player,” said Nikkan Sports.

Osaka, the biracial daughter of a Haitian father and Japanese mother wore different masks for each of her seven matches in the tournament, honoring victims of racial injustice and police brutality. She became deeply involved in the social justice movement, attending a rally in Minneapolis and speaking out on social networks and elsewhere.

When Osaka was asked whether this controversy had prevented her from enjoying her moment of glory, she calmly replied: “I don’t feel sad because I wouldn’t even know what I was expected to feel, since it was my first final and my first grand slam victory. Overall I felt really happy.”

Japan’s top men’s tennis player Kei Nishikori, who withdrew from the U.S. Open after a positive coronavirus test, congratulated Osaka on her triumph — tweeting a string of emoticons of likes, muscles and Japanese flags.

Media and supporters also backed 22-year-old Osaka’s protest against racism on and off the court.

“The victory embodied the feeling of bereaved families who hope to prevent a repeat of tragedies and change society,” the Mainichi Shimbun said.

Osaka walked onto the court before the final wearing a mask bearing the name of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African-American boy who was shot dead by a white police officer in Cleveland, Ohio in 2014.

“She is brave. I’m proud of her,” Osaka’s 75-year-old grandfather, Tetsuo Osaka, told reporters of her stand.

The latest addition is just the beginning of what may be a re-invention of a new Queen of Tennis. She has also created an opportunity to open the topic of social justice with her response to the Mater of Ceremony on Saturday night… Although people may agree or disagree, I think it is a good thing that the issue has become a topic of discussion.

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