- Naomi Osaka arrived at the Western & Southern Open Friday wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt.
- The 22-year-old tennis superstar decided to play in the tournament semifinal Friday after previously pulling out of the competition to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
- Following Osaka's initial scratch, the USTA, ATP, and WTA tours all chose to pause play to take "a stance against racial inequality and social injustice."
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Naomi Osaka played tennis on Friday, but not without making a statement that reverberated beyond the court.
The 22-year-old tennis superstar donned a "Black Lives Matter" T-shirt when she arrived at the USTA's Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York on Friday morning for her Western & Southern Open semifinal match against Elise Mertens.
Though Osaka initially pulled out of the tournament to take a stand against the police shooting of Jacob Blake, she later decided to compete after the USTA, ATP, and WTA tours — plus the Western & Southern Open itself — all chose to pause play to take "a stance against racial inequality and social injustice."
On Wednesday evening, Osaka announced via Twitter that she would not be playing in the semifinal match originally scheduled for Thursday morning because "there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis."
"Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman," Osaka wrote in the note. "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."
Her decision came with protests erupting around the US — including by other major athletes — in light of Kenosha, Wisconsin, officers shooting the 29-year-old Black man in front of his three children. Blake has been in stable condition at a hospital despite being shot seven times in the back, but his family says he is now paralyzed from the waist down.
Osaka followed the lead of players in the NBA, WNBA, MLB, and MLS who chose to step away from competition Wednesday in response to systemic police violence against Black Americans.
"Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach," Osaka wrote. "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."
One of tennis' brightest young stars, Osaka has been outspoken about racial injustice and police brutality in the US since George Floyd's killing during an arrest in Minneapolis. As the daughter of a Haitian father and a Japanese mother, she has spoken publicly about her own brushes with racism and has tried to use her platform to raise awareness of such issues.
She defeated Mertens in straight sets Friday morning to advance to the Western & Southern Open final. She'll look to carry momentum from the championship match into the US Open, which begins on Monday.
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