Naomi Osaka, the highest paid female athlete in the world, has joined the wave of strikes across the major US sports leagues in protest of racial injustice by withdrawing from her semi-final at the Western & Southern Open, which was scheduled to be played on Thursday afternoon.
Minutes after Osaka completed her media duties following a 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 win over Anett Kontaveit in New York, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to contest their NBA playoff game against Orlando Magic following the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, near to Milwaukee. The strikes have now spread across the US sports world and include teams from the NBA, WNBA, MLB and MLS.
“Hello, as many of you are aware I was scheduled to play my semi-finals match tomorrow,” Osaka wrote in a statement on her social media accounts. “However, 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.
“I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction. Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach. I’m exhausted of having a new hashtag pop up every few days and I’m extremely tired of having this same conversation over and over again. When will it ever be enough?”
Osaka, who was one of the first athletes to travel to Minnesota in the summer to protest for and pay tribute to George Floyd, punctuated her message by hashtagging the names of Black people who had been killed by the police: Blake, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and Floyd.
Earlier on Wednesday, Osaka faced a 4-6, 0-2 and 30-40 deficit against Kontaveit before crushing an 114mph ace to save the break point and then reeling off nine games in a row. She eventually eked out a tight final set to secure her third win of the week. She was scheduled to face Elise Mertens of Belgium in the semi-final, who will now receive a walkover into the final. The US Open begins on 31 August.
The former No 1 Victoria Azarenka later beat the in-form Ons Jabeur to reach her first significant semi-final since March 2018. Azarenka is currently ranked 59th and she has struggled since she returned to the tour in 2017 after giving birth to a son, in part due to an enduring custody battle that contributed to her missing the Australian Open this year.
In the men’s draw, Novak Djokovic continued his peerless start to the season as he secured his 21st consecutive win by dismantling Jan Lennard Struff of Germany 6-1, 6-3 in only 62 minutes. Djokovic will face Roberto Bautista Agut in the semi-final.
Although female players had the option of easing back into competition earlier this month, the men have all restarted their seasons in New York and it is yet unclear who is prepared to challenge Djokovic.
The defending champion, Daniil Medvedev, appeared to be a worthy challenger for one set, but he was eventually smothered 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 by Bautista Agut.
Elsewhere, the 2009 US Open Champion Juan Martín del Potro announced that he has undergone a third surgery on his right knee as his career continues to hang in the balance after fracturing it at the Shanghai Masters in October 2018. It marks the 31-year-old’s seventh career surgery across a desperately unfortunate career.