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Naomi Osaka leading the way by promoting Black Lives Matter

It was fitting that Osaka lifted the trophy in the arena named after Arthur Ashe, a pioneer and activist who is the only black man to win Wimbledon

Naomi Osaka of Japan speaks to the media during her press conference on day 1 of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia at Foro Italico on May 12, 2019 in Rome, Italy.

This is a story about more than just tennis, with US Open champion Naomi Osaka using her platform to promote Black Lives Matter and honour victims of violence and brutality.

The 22-year-old has found her voice off the court and then sent out a statement by returning to the top on it with her third Grand Slam title on Saturday night in New York.

Osaka, who has a Japanese mother and Haitian father, has been outspoken with her strident views on social media, making her an icon to the millions watching tennis across the globe.

Naomi Osaka of Japan smiles for pictures with fans following a second round match victory over Tatjana Maria of Germany on Day 5 of the Rogers Cup at Aviva Centre on August 07, 2019 in Toronto, Canada

Striding into Arthur Ashe Stadium for her first-round match 12 days ago, Osaka put her activism front-and-centre from the start of the US Open, wearing a mask to honour Breonna Taylor, a black woman killed by police officers who burst into her apartment in March.

Osaka would go on to recognise seven different black Americans - one for each of the seven rounds of the tournament - bringing the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality to her sport's broad international fan base.

After her final victory over Victoria Azarenka she was asked what message she hoped to send with her masks, she then turned the question on her interviewer, "What was the message that you got? The point is to make people start talking," she said.

Naomi Osaka of Japan attends the Official Draw Ceremony and Gala of the 2019 WTA Finals at Hilton Shenzhen Shekou Nanhai on October 25, 2019 in Shenzhen, China

The latest trophy goes into her collection alongside ones from the 2018 US Open, where her achievement was overshadowed by the infamous row between Serena Williams and umpire Carlos Ramos, and the 2019 Australian Open.

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Already the highest-earning female athlete in the world, Osaka added another £2.3m in prize money to her fortune, while she became the first Asian player to win three Grand Slam singles titles, surpassing Chinese trailblazer Li Na.

It has been more than 50 years since athletes like Muhammad Ali, John Carlos and Tommie Smith and the Original 9 of women's tennis all stood up and used their sport, their voices and their actions to change humanity. The baton has been passed and Naomi has accepted it.
Tennis pioneer Billie Jean King on Osaka

Osaka, in playing for a cause bigger than herself, has rediscovered the clear-mindedness that characterised her first two titles.

She said: "My life was always go, go tennis-wise, especially after the previous US Open that I won. It definitely accelerated things, and I've never had a chance to slow down.

"The quarantine definitely gave me a chance to think a lot about things, what I want to accomplish, what I want people to remember me by. I came into this tournament with that mindset. I think it definitely helped me out."

Also on Osaka's mind was Kobe Bryant. She was friends with the basketball superstar, who was tragically killed in a helicopter crash in January.

Bryant won five NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers and Osaka said she was determined to keep his legacy alive.

"I feel like at this point there are certain things that I do that I hope can make him proud," she said.

"It's keeping his legacy alive for me. I think it's amazing how one person can inspire so many people. I just want to be the type of person that he thought I was going to be. He thought I was going to be great, so hopefully I will be great in the future."

Osaka wore a different face mask for each of her matches at Flushing Meadows. They each carried the name of a black American and aimed to highlight racial injustice in the United States to a wider audience.

Round One - Breonna Taylor

Taylor, 26, was shot dead by police in her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky on March 13. One police officer involved was fired by the city's police department in June. Two other officers have been placed on administrative reassignment. No criminal charges have been filed against any of the three.

Round Two - Elijah McClain

Naomi Osaka of Japan wears a mask with the name Elijah McClain on it following her Women’s Singles second round win against Camila Giorgi of Italy on Day Three of the 2020 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 2, 2020 in the Queens borough of New York City. McClain was killed by police in Aurora, Colorado.

McClain, 23, died after a violent encounter with police officers in Aurora, Colorado in August last year. His family filed a lawsuit against the city and its police department last month, alleging murder and routine use of excessive force against black people.

Round Three - Ahmaud Arbery

Naomi Osaka of Japan wears a protective face mask with the name, Ahmaud Arbery stenciled on it after winning her Women's Singles third round match against Marta Kostyuk of the Ukraine on Day Five of the 2020 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 04, 2020 in the Queens borough of New York City. Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old African-American man, was pursued and fatally shot while jogging in Glynn County, Georgia.

Arbery, 25, was fatally shot after being pursued by armed white men as he jogged through a suburban neighbourhood in Georgia in February. Three white men have been charged with the murder of Arbery in a case that spurred a national outcry after mobile phone video of the shooting was leaked on the internet.

Round Four - Trayvon Martin

Naomi Osaka of Japan walks out wearing a mask with the name of Trayvon Martin printed on it before her Women’s Singles fourth round match against Anett Kontaveit of Estonia on Day Seven of the 2020 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 6, 2020 in the Queens borough of New York City

Martin was a black teenager whose killing by civilian George Zimmerman in Florida in 2012 helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement.

Quarter-Finals - George Floyd

Naomi Osaka of Japan walks in wearing a mask with the name of George Floyd on it before her Women’s Singles quarter-finals match against Shelby Rogers of the United States on Day Nine of the 2020 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 8, 2020 in the Queens borough of New York City.

Floyd died on May 25 after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the 46-year-old's neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds during an arrest. His death triggered mass protests against racial injustice and police brutality in the United States that have spread internationally. Chauvin and three other Minneapolis police officers were fired a day after a video of the incident emerged. Chauvin was subsequently charged with second-degree murder and the other three officers with aiding and abetting.

Semi-Finals - Philando Castile

Castile was a 32-year-old black man shot and killed by Minnesota police during a traffic stop in a suburb of St Paul, Minnesota in 2016, prompting protests. His girlfriend live streamed the aftermath of the incident on social media, garnering national attention for the case. A jury acquitted an officer on charges of felony manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm.

Final - Tamir Rice

Her seventh face mask bore the name of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy killed by a policeman while playing with a toy gun in Cleveland, Ohio in 2014, while Osaka's boyfriend, rapper Cordae, sat in the stands with a T-shirt bearing the words 'Defund the police'. In April 2016, Cleveland officials agreed to pay $6 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Rice's family.

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