Naomi Osaka is letting her racquet do the talking on court at the US Open but her message off the court is resonating deeply in New York.
The Japanese superstar cruised into the third round of the grand slam tournament with a regulation 6-1, 6-2 win against Italy's Camila Giorgi.
'ABOMINABLE': Fiery star fumes over US Open 'prison'
'CLUELESS’: Thiem slammed over US Open breach
For the second match in a row, much of the focus around Osaka centred on her face mask and the name etched across it.
Osaka has been vocal about her social justice issues over the last few months and she wore a plain black mask with Breonna Taylor’s name written across the front during her first round match win over Misaki Doi.
Taylor’s death, along with George Floyd’s in police custody in May and the Jacob Blake shooting in Wisconsin earlier this month, have sparked a massive social justice movement across the country.
Only last week, Osaka joined the wave of strike action as American athletes protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
On Thursday (AEST) against Georgi, Osaka had another name across the front of her face mask: Elijah McClain.
The 23-year-old McClain died in August last year after a violent encounter with police officers in Aurora, Colorado.
His family filed a lawsuit against the city and its police last month, alleging murder and routine use of excessive force against Black people.
Osaka has been active in speaking out against racial injustice and is using her status as one of the biggest stars in tennis as a powerful platform to do so.
Along with Serena Williams, the Japanese star is undoubtedly the biggest global star in women's tennis, with more than one million followers on Instagram alone.
Osaka has 7 masks with 7 names
The 2018 US Open champion said earlier in the week that she arrived to New York with masks honouring seven different people — one for each match that would carry her to the tournament final if she advances that far.
“For me, I just want to spread awareness,” Osaka said after her opening round win over Doi.
“I’m aware that tennis is watched all over the world, and maybe there is someone that doesn’t know Breonna Taylor’s story.
“Maybe they’ll Google it or something. For me, just spreading awareness. I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interesting or interested they’ll become in it.”
What happened to McClain
McClain was a 23-year-old Black man who died in 2019 after police in Aurora, Colorado placed him in a chokehold intended to restrict blood flow to the brain. The technique has since been banned.
Paramedics arrived on the scene and injected him with ketamine, a common veterinary tranquilizer that is sometimes used as a sedative on humans. McClain suffered cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and died days later.
He did not commit a crime, as police responded to a 911 call claiming that someone “looked sketchy.” Body camera footage shows that McClain stopped walking after multiple commands from the police and asked them to “leave me alone.” The officers responded by restraining him and taking him to the ground.
A police report claims that McClain reached for one of their guns. Footage does not support that claim.
Like in Taylor’s case, no arrests have been made in McClain’s death. Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt and Randy Roedema were the responding officers in the incident. They were initially placed on leave, but have since returned to duty.
with Yahoo Sports US