US Open champion Naomi Osaka took a direct swipe at critics of her recent activism saying the people who told her that sportspersons should stay out of politics inspired her to win her third Grand Slam title.
The 22-year-old has been an active part of the Black Lives Matter over the last few months, attending a rally in the wake of George Floyd’s death and using her social media to amplify the protests. Her stand against racial injustice became stronger once tennis restarted post the coronavirus-enforced break last month.
She joined the sports boycott started by the NBA in America and at the US Open wore different masks honoring victims of systemic racism and police brutality in the United States in each of the tournament’s seven rounds.
Her stance was widely appreciated by athletes and political figures but had its fair share of critics as well. The most common criticism was the overplayed ‘athletes should stick to sports and not mix it with politics’.
In a tweet, Osaka said that it was these people who motivated her to win and stay on the TV screen for as long as possible. “All the people that were telling me to “keep politics out of sports”, (which it wasn’t political at all), really inspired me to win. You better believe I’m gonna try to be on your tv for as long as possible,” she tweeted.
The 2018 champions came from a set down to beat Victoria Azarenka 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, inside Arthur Ashe Stadium and win her third Grand Slam title on Saturday.
Before the sport’s shutdown, Osaka’s on-field performance was on a downward spiral but post the break she has hit top form.
At the Western & Southern Open, a US Open tuneup event, she reached the final but threatened not to play her semi-final match in protest at the police shooting of black man Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.
Osaka’s move came after the Milwaukee Bucks led a historic boycott in US Sport over the shooting, forcing the NBA to halt its playoff schedule and prompting a wave of walkouts across multiple sports. Her decision prompted the WTA and ATP to postpone all semi-final matches by a day, inspiring Osaka to change her mind and make herself available for the final.
She walked onto the court for her first match at the US Open wearing a mask bearing the name Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician who was killed when police shot her in her own apartment in March.
Osaka then donned face coverings honoring Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd and Philando Castile. In Saturday’s final she honored Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African-American boy who was shot dead by a white police officer in Cleveland, Ohio in 2014.
Of Japanese and Haitian heritage, she also gave a nod to ancestors after her US Open win.