• AFP-Jiji, Reuters


Naomi Osaka’s victory in the U.S. Open was hailed Sunday by media and officials in Japan who broadly welcomed her campaigning for victims of racial injustice and against police brutality.

Public broadcaster NHK broke into its regular programming to flash the news of the 22-year-old’s latest Grand Slam triumph, after she beat Victoria Azarenka 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 to add to her 2018 U.S. Open and 2019 Australian Open titles.

“Osaka achieved the feat of winning a record third title in the Grand Slam singles as an Asian player,” said Nikkan Sports.

Japan’s top men’s tennis player Kei Nishikori, who withdrew from the U.S. Open after a positive coronavirus test, congratulated Osaka on her triumph — tweeting a string of emoticons of likes, muscles and Japanese flags.

Media and supporters also backed 22-year-old Osaka’s protest against racism on and off the court.

“The victory embodied the feeling of bereaved families who hope to prevent a repeat of tragedies and change society,” the Mainichi Shimbun said.

Osaka walked onto the court before the final wearing a mask bearing the name of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African-American boy who was shot dead by a white police officer in Cleveland, Ohio in 2014.

Osaka, of Japanese and Haitian heritage, wore different masks for each of her seven matches in the tournament, honoring victims of racial injustice and police brutality.

“She is brave. I’m proud of her,” Osaka’s 75-year-old grandfather, Tetsuo Osaka, told reporters of her stand.

Fumio Kishida, one of three candidates to succeed outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, tweeted: “I respect her as she fought it out and showed the best result, bringing up the importance of diversity to the world. I’m greatly encouraged.”

Tokyoites celebrating Osaka’s victory were eager to embrace their heroines’ stand against racial injustice.

Osaka, who has a Japanese mother and Haitian father, has become the face of a changing Japan coming to terms with challenges to its self-image as a racially homogenous society.

“I jumped for joy (at her win),” said Kazuyoshi Hosoya, who was looking to buy an edition of a newspaper celebrating Osaka’s win.

“I know she is protesting and I have heard on TV that she was doing her best to use all the seven face masks (by reaching the final).”

“I think this is amazing that she actually accomplished using all the seven masks.”

Osaka’s strident views on social media have made her an icon for many young Japanese.

“I am very happy that Naomi, who is an influential person, said ‘Black Lives Matter’ in a public place,” said 16-year-old Mari Maeda.

“I am happy that her message was received not only in the U.S. but also the world, including Japan.”

A report in Mainichi on Friday cited unnamed sources at one of her sponsors as criticizing her BLM stance.

“I don’t think she needed to do that while she’s fighting her way to the top. If possible, we’d like her to attract more attention with her tennis skills,” said a source, according to the daily.

With her win in New York, Osaka cannot be accused of letting her activism become a distraction and going by the comments of those in Tokyo on Sunday, the sponsor may have misjudged public sentiment.

“Including myself, I think there are many people who are not interested in a topic like racism,” said office worker Masateru Tanimoto.

“But (Osaka) has created an opportunity to open the topic… Although people may agree or disagree, I think it is a good thing that the issue has become a topic of discussion.”

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