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Naomi Osaka has sent the perfect message to her haters over criticism she received during and after her remarkable triumph at the US Open.
Osaka capped a transformative US Open with a challenge to the millions watching across the globe on Saturday to “start talking” about racial justice.
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Striding into Arthur Ashe Stadium for her first-round match, Osaka put her activism front-and-centre from the start, wearing a mask to honour Breonna Taylor - a Black woman killed by police officers who burst into her apartment in March.
Osaka would go on to recognise seven different Black Americans - one for each of the seven rounds of the tournament - bringing the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality to her sport's broad international fan base.
The Japanese star’s boyfriend also made a number of political statements throughout the US Open, most notably wearing a shirt that said “defund the police” at the final.
However the activism didn’t go down well with everyone in the tennis world, forcing Osaka to send a message directly to the haters after the US Open came to a close.
“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,” she wrote on Twitter.
“You better believe I’m gonna try to be on your tv 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.
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@naomiosaka) September 15, 2020
Osaka’s boyfriend sparks photo controversy
Unfortunately for Osaka the haters only got louder on Tuesday when photos emerged of boyfriend Cordae flipping the middle finger as they celebrated her third grand slam triumph.
American Olympian Lauren Perdue Britt wasn’t impressed by Cordae’s actions.
“All I can say about this photo is sweetie, you can do better in the boyfriend department,” the gold medallist swimmer tweeted.
Sports journalist Trent Courtright believed Cordae had taken some shine off Osaka’s victory.
“Naomi Osaka wins the US Open and her boyfriend makes it all about him. Show some class,” he tweeted.
“The US Open has always been a prestigious event and for them to endorse this behaviour publicly is a shame.
“I’m an advocate for freedom of speech, but flipping the bird when your girlfriend (not yourself) wins the tournament is dampening the gravity of a significant achievement.”
— Lauren Britt (@LoPerdue) September 14, 2020
Naomi Osaka wins the US Open and her boyfriend makes it all about him. Show some class. 🤦♂️ pic.twitter.com/fKUVDWSKRc
— Trent Courtright (@tcsportsinsider) September 13, 2020
The #USOpen has always been a prestigious event and for them to endorse this behavior publicly is a shame. I’m an advocate for freedom of speech, but flipping the bird when your girlfriend (not yourself) wins the tournament is dampening the gravity of a significant achievement.
— Trent Courtright (@tcsportsinsider) September 15, 2020
How does Yonex feel about the picture of Naomi and her boyfriend after her victory? Is that the kind of ambassador your company wants?
— Rodd Russell (@Rodd4LSU) September 14, 2020
@naomiosaka Once you could've probably said you didn't condone it. When it happens twice you're complicit. And with a Kobe Bryant jersey on no less. What an absolute disgrace! Kobe ain't proud! pic.twitter.com/938OYuNckV
— George A Neale (@GeorgeNealeDuke) September 14, 2020
So us open. What do I hvw to say about your ya open female champion posing in two different pics as her boyfriend shoots the bird? I have not seen an apology issued. Disgusting and classless. #NaomiOsaka #USOpen2020 #USOpen #osaka boyfriend
— lisa knight finley (@brennan1397) September 15, 2020
Naomi Osaka goes from athlete to activist
Asked after her final what message she hoped to send with her masks, she turned the question on her interviewer: “What was the message that you got? The point is to make people start talking.”
Osaka, who was born in Japan to a Haitian father and Japanese mother, spent her formative years in the United States and lives in Los Angeles.
She represents her birth country in competition but her influence defies international borders.
“Everything that I was doing off the court was sort of on the court at the same time too,” she said in a televised interview after her three-sets win over Azarenka in the final.
“It made me stronger because I felt like I have more desire to win because I want to show more names.”
Tennis pioneer Billie Jean King said the action put her in the pantheon of the greatest athlete activists.
“It has been more than 50 years since athletes like Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith and the Original 9 of women's tennis all stood up and used their sport, their voices and their actions to change humanity,” she said.
“The baton has been passed and Naomi has accepted it.”
Her final mask of the US Open bore the name of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black child who was holding a toy gun when a police officer shot and killed him in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2014.