New York – Naomi Osaka said Thursday she will play in her rescheduled semifinal at the Western and Southern Open, a day after the Japanese world No. 10 announced she would sit out the match in solidarity with U.S. protests over racial injustice and police brutality.
In consultation with the WTA and the U.S. Tennis Association, Osaka said in a statement through her management that “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.”
The tournament’s sanctioning bodies, the women’s WTA Tour and the men’s ATP Tour, said on Thursday they had decided to pause the tournament, postponing the day’s semifinal matches for both men and women to Friday to take “a stance against racial inequality and social injustice” in the United States.
Osaka said she had decided to pull out of the tournament “in support of racial injustice and continued police violence. “I was (and am) ready and prepared to concede the match to my opponent,” she said in her statement on Thursday.
“Naomi Osaka has confirmed she will take the court on Friday to play her scheduled semifinal against Elise Mertens at the Western & Southern Open,” the WTA said on its website.
The tournament, relocated from its normal venue in Cincinnati to New York amid the coronavirus pandemic, is a lead-in to the U.S. Open. The year’s final Grand Slam is slated to begin Monday.
Osaka’s initial decision not to play followed the weekend shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as well as a number of other recent cases involving African Americans, including the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police in May.
Amid nationwide protests, a wave of U.S. athletes in major professional leagues have declined to play while calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality, leading to recent postponements of baseball, soccer and basketball games.
“Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman,” Osaka said on Twitter, where she asked her fans to focus on issues that are more important than watching tennis and to start engaging in difficult conversations.
“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,” Osaka wrote in English and Japanese.
Osaka, meanwhile, was drawn against her compatriot Misaki Doi in the first round of the U.S. Open.
Slotted into the fourth seed for the 2020 U.S. Open, Osaka won the tournament in 2018 and then claimed her second Grand Slam title by winning the 2019 Australian Open.