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Naomi Osaka advances at U.S. Open, poised to show all 7 masks for racial justice

“I feel like I’m a vessel in order to spread awareness," Naomi Osaka said.
Image: 2020 US Open - Day 5
Naomi Osaka of Japan returns a shot at the US Open on Sept. 4, 2020.Al Bello / Getty Images

NEW YORK — Naomi Osaka brought seven masks to the U.S. Open to highlight racial injustice and on the basis of her impressive showing 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.

Naomi Osaka of Japan wears a mask with George Floyd's name at the US Open on Sept. 8, 2020.Matthew Stockman / Getty Images

Two more remain in Osaka’s kit bag for the semi-final against American Jenny Brady and potentially her second U.S. 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.”

Naomi Osaka of Japan walks out wearing a mask with the name of Trayvon Martin at the US Open on Sept. 6, 2020.Matthew Stockman / Getty Images

Osaka, who at 22 already has two Grand Slam titles after winning the 2018 U.S. 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.”