‘Naomi Osaka’s activism giving her extra motivation’

Naomi Osaka returned to the US Open semi-finals after a 6-3, 6-4 win over Shelby Rogers

Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka’s coach Wim Fissette has said that rather than distracting her, her stand against racial injustice during the US Open has given her more energy and motivation.

The World No 10, who has been wearing masks bearing names of different African-American victims of racial injustice with every match, booked her place in the US Open semi-final after beating America’s Shelby Rogers 6-3, 6-4 on Tuesday evening.

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“It’s definitely helping her and giving her even more energy,” Fissette, who started working with Osaka at the end of 2019, told reporters.

“She always has the motivation. Of course, she wants to go really far in this Grand Slam, and obviously she wants to win it. But this is like an extra motivation. It’s a very important topic for her.”

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Belgian Fissette, who has worked with players like Kim Clijsters, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber in the past, also said that Osaka had not lost sight of her goals in tennis.

“For sure with wearing the masks, she wants to be a role model, but also she knows that it has to go together with the role model on court,” he said.

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“So it’s a good combination. Role model off court; also great attitude on court. So far it’s working really well. So I’m very proud of her.”

After her match against Rogers, Osaka saw video messages sent to her by the families of Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery and was visibly emotional.

“Actually I was just trying really hard not to cry,” she said during her post-match press conference.

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“It’s a bit surreal. It’s extremely touching that they would feel touched by what I’m doing. For me, I feel like what I’ve doing is nothing. It’s a speck of what I could be doing.

“For me, the biggest thing is I don’t want people younger than me to suffer through the things I have to suffer through. If any younger player reaches out to me and has questions, for sure I’ll answer them. I’ll try to help them out because I know how tough it is to be in that position.”

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The two-time Grand Slam champion, who represents Japan, seems to have broken the streak of bad results at majors at this US Open.

Having won back-to-back majors at the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open, Osaka seemed to be struggling under the pressure of expectations. She hasn’t made the last eight in the past four majors.

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“I think the last two Grand Slams, everything happened so fast, I wasn’t really in the moment,” the 22-year-old said. “I’m just really happy to be in the semis, and hopefully I can keep going.”

In the semi-finals, Osaska will take on No 28 seed Jennifer Brady, who beat Yulia Putintseva 6-3, 6-2.

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Having resumed from the long hiatus with a title in Lexington, Brady has swept through the draw at this year’s US Open. She hasn’t lost a set yet in her five matches, and has beaten players like Kerber and Caroline Garcia to make her maiden Grand Slam semi-final.