'Flawless' Osaka looking good to unveil all her masks

Naomi Osaka of Japan wearing a George Floyd mask hits balls into the stands after her win against Shelby Rogers of the United States in her quarterfinal on day nine of the 2020 US Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Naomi Osaka of Japan wearing a George Floyd mask hits balls into the stands after her win against Shelby Rogers of the United States in her quarterfinal on day nine of the 2020 US Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Image: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Naomi Osaka brought seven face masks to the US Open to highlight racial injustice and on the basis of her impressive showing in the quarter-finals on Tuesday, Flushing Meadows looks destined to see them all.

Before the 6-3 6-4 victory over Shelby Rogers, the former champion unveiled the fifth mask emblazoned with the name of George Floyd, the Black American who died in police custody in Minneapolis in May.

Two more remain in Osaka's kit bag for the semi-final against American Jenny Brady and potentially her second US Open final at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday.

"I just have a feeling," she told ESPN, explaining how she decided which mask to wear.

"I feel like I'm a vessel in order to spread awareness."

The highlighting of the issue has taken a little of the focus away from what has been a highly impressive tournament for the fourth seed as she has made her way to her third Grand Slam semi-final.

On Tuesday, she made just eight unforced errors across two sets against a player with some big shots who she had never beaten before.

"She played pretty flawless," said Rogers. "I think she can go a couple more if she wants.

"She's more confident in who she is, what her game is, how to play."

Osaka, who at 22 already has two Grand Slam titles after winning the 2018 US Open and backing up at the 2019 Australian Open, said she had spent a lot of time during the coronavirus shutdown thinking about how she wanted to approach her tennis.

"Honestly, the whole of 2019 after I won Australia, I just put too much pressure on myself, I wasn't enjoying it," Osaka said.

"When I (lost) against Coco (Gauff) in Australia this year, I was just so stressed out. So I just thought to myself, I'm just going to take quarantine to mentally evaluate what I want to do when I come back.

"When you come out on Ashe, there's a Billy Jean King quote 'pressure is a privilege', and I feel it's unbelievably true."

Meanwhile, Rogers said it was "quite an experience" to play at Arthur Ashe Stadium without fans and the American feels it will be "weird" to have spectators in the stands at the French Open later this month.

The September 27-October 11 French Open will allow up to 11,500 spectators per day.

"My first match on Ashe without fans, so that was quite an experience. Check that off the bucket list," said Rogers. "I played there before with a packed stadium, and it was very, very different."

The American, who was unseeded at Flushing Meadows, was excited about getting back to the red clay at Roland Garros, where she reached the quarter-finals in 2016.

"It will be nice to go back, train on clay, get ready for Paris where I've had a lot of good memories," she added.

"On the flip side, I think it will be really weird to have fans. Maybe a little standoffish from players not used to being around people.

"We've been scolded, if you will, for doing the wrong things. It will be just another adjustment."

The 27-year-old said there were plenty of positives she could take away from her campaign at her home Grand Slam.

"One is that I am able to adapt to these new conditions, the new normal," she said. "I know I can handle it and make the most out of that, which is encouraging.

"I feel healthy. I'm happy with where my game is. The confidence is just building with each match."

- Reuters

 

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