Star reveals all after shock protest
Japanese fourth seed Naomi Osaka won the semi-final match she once vowed not to play, defeating Belgium's Elise Mertens on Saturday (AEST) to reach the ATP and WTA Western & Southern Open final.
Osaka saved 18 of 21 break points in her 6-2 7-6 (7-5) victory, advancing to the championship match against two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka in the same New York COVID-19 quarantine bubble where the US Open begins on Monday.
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"My service game was tougher than normal. I'm glad I was able to save 18 of them," Osaka said. "Preparing for this match was a bit stressful but I'm glad I was able to close it out."
Two-time grand slam champion Osaka, of Haitian and Japanese heritage, said on Thursday she wouldn't play in the semi-finals to protest the police shooting of African-American Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Osaka - who turned up to her match against Mertens wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt, said she was "sick to her stomach" and "exhausted" by repeated violence against blacks by US police, echoing a move by NBA team the Milwaukee Bucks in boycotting a playoff game for the same reason.
"I honestly didn't even think it would be that big of a deal," Osaka said on Saturday.
"I thought I would just withdraw and make a statement. But then I got a call from (WTA CEO) Steve Simon and he said he was fully supportive so I'm really grateful for that."
"I always thought it would be nice if someone started in tennis. I'm more of a follower.
"I was waiting and waiting and then I realised I was the one who was going to have to take the first step.
"After my quarters match I saw everything the NBA was doing. Then I felt like I also needed to raise my voice, too. So I called Stu, my agent, and we talked it over. Then we called the WTA, and they said that they would love to support and they were going to push play back a day. So I put out my statement.
"I just wanted to create awareness in the tennis bubble. I think I did my job, I guess."
Osaka also denied backflipping on a decision to continue in the tournament, clarifying she only voiced her intention to sit out for one day, not the entire event.
"I feel like this is where everyone gets confused, because I didn't say I was going to withdraw from the tournament. I just said I wasn't going to play the next day," Osaka said.
"I don't feel like I'm being brave. I just feel like I'm doing what I should be doing. So honestly, when people say courageous or anything, I don't really resonate that well with it.
"I just feel like this is what I'm supposed to be doing in this moment.
"It's definitely a bit eye-opening but in an odd way, because I only previously thought the Big Three (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic) and Serena (Williams) would have that type of power."
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Osaka's decision prompted the WTA and ATP to postpone all semi-final matches to Saturday, which inspired Osaka to change her mind and play, although she was worried other delayed players would be upset.
"I don't want them to blame me for the one-day break because their schedule got messed up," she said.
"I was scared but they were really nice."
Osaka said her big personal gains from the move were "confidence and really becoming more aware of the impact my voice could have".
Azarenka, from Belarus, defeated British eighth seed Johanna Konta 4-6 6-4 6-1 in the other semi-final at the US Open tune-up, which is typically played in Cincinnati but was moved in the wake of the deadly virus outbreak.
On the men's side, Canada's Milos Raonic eliminated Greek fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 to reach an ATP final against top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who beat Spanish eighth seed Roberto Bautista Agut.
Mertens was supportive of Osaka and unfazed by the off-again, on-again status of the match.
"I totally get her reason 100 per cent so I'm totally supporting her too," Mertens said.
Osaka, the 2018 US Open and 2019 Australian Open champion, broke for a 2-0 lead and again in the eighth game to take the first set in 38 minutes.
The 22-year-old Japanese star broke for a 2-0 lead in set two before Mertens rolled through the next four games. Osaka broke back in the seventh game and, after battling into the tie-breaker, won when Mertens hit a backhand wide.
Raonic commended Osaka's move, saying: "It's a human right not to have that fear. I hope there is a change in the future and that we as athletes can be a small part of that."
Originally published as Star reveals all after shock protest