Osaka to play in NY after calling attention to injustice

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Naomi Osaka

FILE – In this Aug. 26, 2020, file photo, Naomi Osaka, of Japan, returns a shot to Anett Kontaveit, of Estonia, during the quarterfinals at the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament in New York. ç (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Naomi Osaka will play in the Western & Southern Open semifinals, after all.

A day after saying she would withdraw from the hard-court event to protest the “continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police” — prompting the tournament to call off all of Thursday’s matches — the two-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1-ranked player changed course.

Her agent confirmed that Osaka will face No. 14 Elise Mertens when play resumes at the tournament Friday with the semifinals. The finals were shifted from Friday to Saturday.

“As you know, I pulled out of the tournament yesterday in support of racial injustice and continued police violence. I was (and am) ready and prepared to concede the match to my opponent,” Osaka said in a statement to the Guardian newspaper. “However, after my announcement and lengthy consultation with the WTA and USTA, I have agreed at their request to play on Friday. They offered to postpone all matches until Friday and in my mind that brings more attention to the movement. I want to thank the WTA and the Tournament for their support.”

Osaka, whose father is from Haiti and mother is from Japan, joined professional athletes in basketball, baseball and soccer in demanding change Wednesday in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by police in Wisconsin.

Osaka tweeted Wednesday that, 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.”

All NBA and WNBA games, three Major League Baseball games and five of six Major League Soccer games were called off Wednesday as athletes decried racial injustice.

The Western & Southern Open is usually held in Ohio but was moved to the New York site of the U.S. Open this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Open is scheduled to begin Monday.

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