Organisers of the Western & Southern Open in New York placed the event on hold overnight following Naomi Osaka’s stance over racism and police brutality in the United States, prompting a joint statement from the USTA, WTA and ATP.
Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of police is honestly making me sick to my stomach. I'm exhausted of having a new hashtag pop up every few days and I'm extremely tired of having this same conversation over and over again. When will it ever be enough?" Naomi Osaka
The statement, headed ‘Pause of Play at the Western & Southern Open’ read: “As a sport, tennis is collectively taking a stance against racial inequality and social injustice that once again has been thrust to the forefront in the United States.
“The USTA, ATP Tour, and WTA have decided to recognise this moment in time by pausing tournament play at the Western & Southern Open on Thursday, August 27.
“Play will resume on Friday, August 28.”
Osaka took to Twitter after her 4-6 6-2 7-5 win over Anett Kontaveit to announce she was withdrawing from her semi-final against Elise Mertens on Thursday in protest at the ‘continued genocide of Black people at the hands of police’.
The former World No 1 and two-times Grand Slam champion added that she took this action was to draw attention to racism and police brutality.
Shortly afterwards, organisers suspended all matches at the tournament for one day and matches will resume on Friday.
“Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of police is honestly making me sick to my stomach,” Osaka said.
“I’m exhausted of having a new hashtag pop up every few days and I’m extremely tired of having this same conversation over and over again.
“When will it ever be enough?”
The NBA also pulled their schedule following Milwaukee Bucks’ decision to boycott their playoff game, while matches in MLB have also been postponed following another night of protests after police shot a 29-year-old black man, Jacob Blake, on Sunday night, leaving him paralysed.
Protests over the shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, spread to a third night leading to the arrest of a 17-year old man on Tuesday night after two people were shot and killed.
Elsewhere, the Women’s NBA postponed its fixtures on Wednesday, while Major League Soccer also called off five matches.
Osaka, who was born in Japan to a Haitian father and a Japanese mother and moved to the US when she was 3, said that by withdrawing from her match she hoped to raise awareness about race issues in tennis.
“Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman,” she said. “And 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.
“I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport, I consider that a step in the right direction.”
The highest paid female athlete in sport, Osaka is one of the most marketable players in the women’s game and also an influential celebrity with a massive social media following.
Osaka’s quarter-final encounter with Kontaveit was not going to plan as the Estonian led 6-4, 2-0, and held a break point on the Japanese serve at 30-40.
Kontaveit, who is coached by Britain’s Nigel Sears, had taken full control of Osaka over those 12 games, using the fast hard courts to her advantage and hitting her returns deep and down the middle.
She served down the T, out wide, and into the body with accuracy and variety and threw up slow, high balls followed by hard-hit shots into the corners, and did not let Osaka get in the first strike in rallies.
Osaka was staring down the barrel after coming onto court somewhat flat and listless but she perked herself up, deciding that with nothing to lose, and cracked an ace down the T to save break point.
She then struck her best crosscourt backhand of the day on the next point, and held.
It was enough to give the No 4 seed the momentum she needed and she started to prevail in the long rallies, winning the next 9 games to lead 4-6 6-2, 3-0.
“I was still saying a lot of bad things to myself,” she admitted later.
Leading 4-2 in the third set she delivered a strong wide serve and was moving toward the finish with a swing volley, which she shanked it into the net, and the wind went out of her sails as she was broken on a backhand unforced error,.
Kontaveit saved a break point to level at 4-4, and Osaka let out a shriek of frustration.
Both were hitting hard and deep, playing with resolve as Osaka smacked a backhand winner to hold for 5-4.
Kontaveit then held from 0-30 down for 5-5, and Osaka threw down a love hold for 6-5.
In the final game, Osaka came back from 40-15 down, hit 2 forehand winners, and won it on her second match point, 4-6 6-2 7-5 after an hour and 52 minutes.
“I just gave myself a lot of excuses,” Osaka said later. “Then I became very down on myself whenever I would miss balls that I thought I shouldn’t miss, but then I’m not putting in the effort to correct myself.
“So that was the direction I was heading in the first set and, like, the beginning of the second set.
“And then, just to correct myself, I just began thinking of all my regrets, and I have never regretted a match where I have tried my best and lost.”
Up next for Osaka is the No.14 seed Mertens who awaits in the semi-finals after the Belgian eased past American qualifier Jessica Pegula, 6-1 6-3, earlier in the day.
Mertens is tied with Osaka in their head-to-head record at a win apiece, with the Japanese claiming the victory in their most recent encounter last year in Osaka, Japan.
Meanwhile, matches are on pause on Thursday.