Japan’s Naomi Osaka showed no signs of discomfort from the injury that forced her to miss a final on Saturday but the former U.S. Open champion had to dig deep to beat compatriot Misaki Doi 6-2 5-7 6-2 in her opener at Flushing Meadows.
A left hamstring injury had forced Osaka to withdraw from the Western & Southern Open final against Victoria Azarenka and the fourth seed said on Monday she was managing the pain, though her movement did not seem to be affected against Doi.
“Physically I feel like I could be better. But I can’t complain because I won the match,” Osaka told reporters.
“The leg felt relatively good.
“It was still a little bit sore … But then during the match, it slowly got a little bit worse. For the most part I’m managing.”
The past week saw Osaka, 22, emerge as tennis’ torchbearer in protests against racial injustice and she walked out to the court wearing a mask featuring the name of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed by police officers who burst into her apartment in March.
“Actually, so I have seven (masks),” said Osaka.
“It’s quite sad that seven masks aren’t enough for all the names. Hopefully I’ll get to the final so you can see all of them.”
Osaka initially pulled out of her semi-finals at the Western & Southern Open on Thursday to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
She reversed her decision after tennis governing bodies suspended the tournament to join the protests.
With no spectators allowed into the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, large sections of seating in the Arthur Ashe Stadium court were covered with ‘Black Lives Matter’ banners.
Osaka, the 2018 champion, started strongly in the opening set as she broke Doi’s serve twice without facing a single breakpoint.
But she struggled with her serve in the second and her unforced errors mounted as the 81st-ranked Doi, who lost to Osaka in their only previous meeting in 2016, levelled the match with a second break.
Normal service was resumed in the decider, however, as Osaka broke her Fed Cup team mate early before sealing the win with a second break.
“It was very difficult and I kind of expected it because first-round nerves and also she’s a tough opponent so I knew there was a chance it would get really long,” Osaka said.
Next up for Osaka is Camila Giorgi, who beat Alison van Uytvanck 2-6 6-1 7-5.
Japan’s Naomi Osaka says she wants to spread awareness about racial injustice after the former U.S. Open champion walked onto court with a mask bearing the name of Breonna Taylor on Monday.
Osaka, who moved to the United States as a three-year-old, has seven separate masks with her at Flushing Meadows and hopes to wear a different one at each stage on her path to the final.
The mask she wore in her first-round match against Misaki Doi was dedicated to Taylor, a Black woman killed by police officers who burst into her apartment in March.
“For me, I just want to spread awareness,” the fourth seed told reporters on a video conference. “I’m aware that tennis is watched all over the world, and maybe there is someone that doesn’t know Breonna Taylor’s story.
“Maybe they’ll like Google it or something. I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interesting or interested they’ll become in it.”
The 22-year-old Osaka has been at the forefront of protests from tennis players against racial injustice in the United States.
She said she appreciated U.S. Open organisers putting up anti-racism artwork and ‘Black Lives Matter’ banners in the showcourts of Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in the absence of spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I just feel like we’re heading towards a great direction, and there’s a lot of players that are supporting it,” she added after her 6-2 5-7 6-2 win over compatriot Doi.
“I think there are a lot of voices that are contributing towards a lot of things, so it’s definitely very nice to see.”
While Osaka missed the crowd’s energy during tough moments on court she said the empty stands helped her concentrate as her mind can wander sometimes.
“Like sometimes I will see a person with a cool outfit or something, they’re doing something, and I get distracted.”