Naomi Osaka into Western & Southern final after calling for racial justice

Naomi Osaka overcame a faulty serve and reached the finals of the Western & Southern Open on Friday following a one-day break in the tournament prompted by her call for racial justice.

Osaka, the only Top 10 player left in the women’s bracket, sparked the break by announcing she would drop out of the tournament rather than play a semifinal match against Elise Mertens. Osaka chose to keep playing after the unified one-day show of support.

How would she handle the emotions of the last few days? She was up to the moment.

“I’m really glad I was able to play at a pretty good level,” said Osaka, who wore a Black Lives Matter shirt before the match. “I’m really glad I didn’t mentally collapse. I was down a break in the second and I was really tight in the tiebreak too.”

She struggled with her serve — her toss was repeatedly off the mark — but gritted out a 6-2, 7-6 (5) victory to reach her first Western & Southern title match.

WATCH | Osaka advances to final:

After nearly dropping out of the tournament, before the WTA decided on a one-day pause of play to take a stance against racial injustice, Naomi Osaka advanced to the final of the Western & Southern Open with a 6-2, 7-6 (5) win over Elise Mertens. 0:34

Osaka’s tweet on Wednesday night that as a Black woman she’s exhausted and “sick to my stomach” over the many Black people killed by police drew quick support from other players and resulted in tennis joining other sports in calling off play temporarily. Osaka didn’t practice on the off day.

Osaka, a two-time Grand Slam champion, held serve to open her match against against 14th-seeded Mertens, and then broke for a 2-0 lead that set the tone. Osaka surged ahead 5-1.

Even though her serve was inconsistent — she made only half of them — the fourth-seeded Osaka fought off 18 of 21 break points while gritting it out.

One alarming moment: Osaka grabbed her left hamstring after chasing a ball during the tiebreaker, but completed the match without pause. Osaka won the 2018 U.S. Open and will be coming off a successful week — in many ways — heading into this one.

The Western & Southern Open was moved from Mason Ohio to the U.S. Open site in Flushing Meadows because of pandemic precautions, creating a two-tournament event without spectators.

Osaka will face resurgent Victoria Azarenka, who beat Johanna Konta 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 to reach the Western & Southern final for the first time since 2013, when she beat Serena Williams.

Canada’s Milos Raonic faced No. 4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in one of the men’s semifinals.

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Johny Watshon

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