Reigning Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka pulled out of a warm-up tournament for the opening Grand Slam of the year Saturday with an abdominal injury, casting a shadow over her preparations.
At the Melbourne Summer Set event this week, the Japanese superstar hit the court for the first time since her tearful early exit at the US Open, after which she took a long break to deal with personal issues.
She was due to play a semi-final against Russian Veronika Kudermetova in an evening clash at the Rod Laver Arena, but opted out.
“I had a lot of fun playing here in Melbourne,” she said in a statement released by the Australian Open on Twitter. “Unfortunately I have an abdominal injury which I need to rest and prepare for the #AusOpen.”
“Thank you to the tournament and the fans,” she added.
Naomi Osaka said Tuesday that she aims to enjoy herself on the court this year as she won on her return to action following a tearful exit at the US Open in September.
The four-time Grand Slam champion, who has fallen to 13 in the rankings, said after her third-round defeat at Flushing Meadows that she was “dealing with some stuff” and would take an indefinite break from tennis.
The former world number one from Japan had mostly laid low before flying into Melbourne last week to prepare for her Australian Open defence.
The 24-year-old was nowhere near her best but defeated France’s 61st-ranked veteran Alize Cornet 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in the Melbourne Summer Set tournament and said that being back in Australia was like “a breath of fresh air”.
Osaka is determined to avoid the “extreme build-up” of emotions last year that made her feel “sad”.
“I feel like for me, I only really have one major goal this year, and it’s completely unrelated to results,” she said, holding a press conference again after her stance last year over the negative impact they had on her mental wellbeing.
“For me, I just want to feel like every time I step on the court I’m having fun. I can walk off the court knowing that even if I lost, I tried as hard as I could.
“Also I have a goal in the press room — that I’m never going to cry again, so hopefully that works out in my favour,” she added.
“I’m the type of person that cared a little bit too much about the results and the ranking and stuff like that.
“And I just need to find a way to enjoy the game again because that’s the reason why I was playing in the first place.”
Osaka last year withdrew from the French Open and Wimbledon over mental health issues, saying her problems were exacerbated by speaking to the media after matches.
She said on Tuesday her feelings and emotions were “like an extreme build-up and you just happened to see it all released last year”.
During her self-enforced absence, Osaka tried to have a normal life away from the pressures of the tennis tour, spending time with family and friends and enjoying sleepovers, something she had never experienced before.
“During the off-season, I just hung out with my friends and talked to my family a lot, and I felt like that was a way of decompressing the pressure I had on myself,” she said.
“Then I just slowly started to regain the feeling of love that I had towards the game — and it’s not like it ever completely went away.
“But I felt like it got overshadowed by a lot of emotions that I was feeling, just by constantly playing year after year… sometimes it’s good to remember why you’re playing.”
Her win on Tuesday set up a last-16 clash with Belgium’s Maryna Zanevska, who eased past Croatia’s Petra Martic in straight sets.
Defending champion Naomi Osaka of Japan and Greek third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas were both ousted from the US Open by 18-year-olds in epic stunners on Friday at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka was shocked by Canadian left-hander Leylah Fernandez 5-7, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4 after Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz upset French Open runner-up Tsitsipas 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7/2), 0-6, 7-6 (7/5).
“Honestly the Alcaraz match gave me motivation and gave me the energy to do the same,” Fernandez said. “I saw his match and I saw the way he won and I’m like ‘I’m going to do that next now.'”
After the upset, defending champion Osaka announced she was taking a break from playing tennis.
“I honestly don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match,” Osaka said, wiping away tears. “I think I’m going to take a break from playing for a while.”
Osaka, who had won her prior 16 Grand Slam matches, was foiled in a bid for her third US Open crown in four years and the first back-to-back title since Serena Williams in 2014.
Alcaraz is the youngest man in the US Open fourth round since 17-year-old American Michael Chang in 1989, and at any Slam since Ukraine’s Andrei Medvedev in the 1992 French Open.
“Incredible. Incredible feeling for me,” Alcaraz said. “This victory means a lot to me. It’s the best match of my career, the best win.
“To beat Stefanos Tsitsipas is a dream come true and to win here is even more special for me.”
Osaka had a major meltdown on court during the final moments of the second set after she was unable to hold serve for the victory.
“From the very beginning, right before the match, I knew I was able to win,” Fernandez said. “Thanks to New York fans. They helped me get the win.”
Osaka, who hadn’t played since Monday thanks to a second-round walkover, took the first set in 37 minutes on her sixth ace.
But she was broken in the 12th game of the second set, an errant forehand sending her to a tie-breaker.
That began a sequence of repeated racquet smashings as she was humbled in the tie-break to force a third set.
“I wanted to stay on court a little longer,” said Fernandez, who turns 19 on Monday. “One hour was just not enough for me.”
Fernandez then hit a forehand winner to break Osaka to start the third set.
Osaka saved two break points to hold in the third game and from there both held to the finish, which came after two hours and four minutes, sending Fernandez against German 16th seed Angelique Kerber in her first Grand Slam fourth round appearance.
“It’ll be a battle,” Fernandez said. “We’re just going to have fun. I’ll put on a show like I did tonight.”
Fernandez, the daughter of an Ecuadoran father and Filipino-Canadian mother, won her first WTA title in March at Monterrey. She had never beaten so high-ranked a rival as third-rated Osaka and the same was true for Alcaraz when he sent home the men’s world number three.
– ‘It’s kind of bitter’ – Alcaraz became the youngest man to beat a top-three player at the US Open since the rankings began in 1973.
World number 55 Alcaraz next faces 141st-ranked German qualifier Peter Gojowczyk, who ousted Swiss Henri Laaksonen 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-4.
Alcaraz won his first ATP title at Umag in July, becoming the tour’s youngest champion since 18-year-old Kei Nishikori in 2008 at Delray Beach.
The teen nicknamed “Next Nadal” was the crowd darling at Arthur Ashe Stadium, with roars erupting as he blasted 33 winners past Tsitsipas.
“Without this crowd, I haven’t the possibility to win the match,” Alcaraz said. “I was down at the beginning of the fourth set so thank you to the crowd for pushing me up in the fifth.”
Tsitsipas opened the final tie-break with an ace but Alcaraz jumped ahead 5-2 and 6-3 before finishing matters with a forehand winner after four hours and seven minutes of play. He collapsed on the court to celebrate.
“It’s one of those matches where you feel like you’re in control and it doesn’t go your way,” Tsitsipas said. “It’s kind of bitter.”
American Frances Tiafoe sprung an upset, ousting fifth-seeded Russian Andrey Rublev 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (8/6), 4-6, 6-1 in a late-night encounter.
Russian second seed Daniil Medvedev, the 2019 US Open and 2021 Australian Open runner-up, beat Spain’s 74th-ranked Pablo Andujar 6-0, 6-4, 6-3. He will next face British 24th seed Daniel Evans.
Women’s second seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus also advanced with ease, beating American Danielle Collins 6-3, 6-3.
Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, wiping away tears after a stunning US Open upset loss on Friday, said she will take an indefinite break from playing tennis.
“I honestly don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match,” Osaka said, choking up and wiping away tears. “I think I’m going to take a break from playing for a while.”
With that, the defending US Open champion put on her Covid-19 facemask, rose and ended the news conference after losing to Canadian teen left-hander Leylah Fernandez 5-7, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4.
The world number three from Japan, who withdrew from the French Open and skipped Wimbledon over mental health issues that she said were exacerbated by speaking after matches, declined a chance to end the session before saying she planned to take a break.
“How do I go around saying this?” Osaka asked aloud. “I feel like for me recently, like, when I win I don’t feel happy. I feel more like a relief.
“And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don’t think that’s normal. I didn’t really want to cry, but basically I feel like…”
After saying she wanted to continue, Osaka, said: “This is very hard to articulate. Basically I feel like I’m kind of at this point where I’m trying to figure out what I want to do.”
Then she announced her tennis break.
Osaka said she thought she served well against Fernandez, but overall she added: “I didn’t play that well. Like I didn’t move that well at all. It’s kind of to be expected sometimes.”
Asked about trouble against left-handers, Osaka said, “I can’t even tell you how it feels to return it because I don’t think I could have returned a ball against a righty today either. I’m pretty sure my return stats were really horrendous.
“It wasn’t like she was serving bombs, so I’m not really sure what to say.”
Osaka had not played a match since Monday’s opener after getting a walkover in the second round.
“I think I would have preferred to play a match. I’ve never had a walkover in a Grand Slam, so that was definitely a really weird feeling,” Osaka said.
“I’m honestly not sure if I feel like I’ve taken a step today or this tournament. I feel like I’m not really sure what I can say about how I played just now.”
– Maybe a ‘boiling point’ – Osaka’s break from tennis, with a potential title defense coming early next year at the Australian Open, came on a night where she slammed her racquet to the court several times after missing a chance to serve out for the match in the second set.
“I’m really sorry about that,” she said. “I’m not really sure why. I was telling myself to be calm, but I feel like maybe there was a boiling point.
“Normally I feel like I like challenges. But recently I feel very anxious when things don’t go my way, and I feel like you can feel that.”
She compared it to a child’s temper tantrum.
“I’m not really sure why it happens the way it happens now,” Osaka said. “But, yeah, it’s basically why. You could kind of see that.
“I was kind of like a little kid.”
Asked if the trouble might have come from Fernandez’s serve or the tension of the moment, Osaka indicated it was other issues she was dealing with that caused the meltdown.
“I don’t think it was her serve because I’ve been able to return pretty well against people that served better,” Osaka said. “I don’t think it’s the occasion because I’ve been in this situation before.
“I guess we’re all dealing with some stuff, but I know that I’m dealing with some stuff.”
Defending champion Naomi Osaka advanced by walkover at the US Open on Wednesday while Russian second seed Daniil Medvedev and fifth-seeded compatriot Andrey Rublev breezed into the third round.
Japanese third seed Osaka, seeking her fifth Grand Slam title and third US Open crown in four years, reached the third round when Serbian qualifier Olga Danilovic withdrew due to illness.
“I have been feeling unwell these past few days dealing with a non-covid related viral ilness,” 20-year-old left-hander Danilovic posted on social media.
Osaka, who next faces Canada’s 73rd-ranked Leylah Fernandez, could become the first back-to-back US Open winner since Serena Williams, absent with a torn hamstring, captured her third in a row in 2014.
Osaka’s Grand Slam win streak remains at 16 matches, the walkover not counting toward the run just as her withdrawing from the French Open after the first round did not halt it.
Medvedev, this year’s Australian Open runner-up, defeated Germany’s Dominik Koepfer 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 while Rublev fell behind 5-2 before roaring back to eliminate Spaniard Pedro Martinez 7-6 (7/2), 6-7 (5/7), 6-1, 6-1.
Medvedev, a winner last month in Toronto, won his only prior match against Koepfer on his way to the 2019 US Open final, which he lost to Rafael Nadal.
“Great level from me,” Medvedev said. “There were a few tight moments in the match and I managed to play them well. I’m happy to be through in less than two hours.”
Two-time Grand Slam winners Victoria Azarenka and Garbine Muguruza booked a third-round showdown.
Spanish ninth seed Muguruza, the 2016 French Open and 2017 Wimbledon champion, defeated Andrea Petkovic 6-4, 6-2, taking her first win in four tries against the German.
“It was dificult because we are great friends,” Muguruza said. “I took my time and played well. That made a difference.”
She will next face two-time Australian Open champion and three-time US Open runner-up Azarenka, the 18th seed from Belarus who defeated Italy’s Jasmine Paolini 6-3, 7-6 (7/1).
“The next round is going to be exciting for both of us,” Azarenka said.
Azarenka and Muguruza have split four career meetings. Muguruza won the most recent in 2020 at Rome and again by walkover in this year’s Doha semi-finals.
“It’s going to be a very difficult match. She always plays great here,” Muguruza said. “She’s always a dangerous player, because if you played great you can always play great again. She’s one of the best players out there.”
Romanian 12th seed Simona Halep, the 2018 French Open and 2019 Wimbledon champion, replaced Osaka on Ashe and dispatched Slovakian Kristina Kucova 6-3, 6-1.
Despite a bandaged right thigh and a year of nagging injuries, Halep advanced on a service winner after 68 minutes for her deepest US Open run since 2016.
“I feel better. I’m more confident,” Halep said. “Before the tournament, I was a little worried with injuries.”
Ukraine’s fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina, a 2019 US Open semi-finalist, ousted Spain’s Rebeka Masarova 6-2, 7-5.
British 24th seed Daniel Evans beat American Marcos Giron 6-4, 7-6 (7/3), 2-6, 6-3 to book a third-round match against Australian Alex Popyrin, who advanced 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/4), 4-0 when Bulgarian 15th seed Grigor Dimitrov retired.
– Plan for toilet breaks – Stefanos Tsitsipas, the Greek third seed whose extended bathroom breaks have become the subject of ridicule at the Open, has the last Ashe night match against Frenchman Adrian Mannarino, who is 0-17 in Grand Slams against top-10 opponents.
Tsitsipas was derided by three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray and Olympic champion Alexander Zverev for taking long toilet breaks and other pauses to disrupt opponents.
Murray says he “lost respect” for the French Open runner-up and Zverev joked the Greek star travels to the moon to use the bathroom.
Tsitsipas, who would match his best US Open run by reaching the third round, says he’s only using rules available to all ATP Tour players.
“I’m playing by the rules and sticking to what the ATP says is fair,” Tsitsipas said.
Americans Coco Gauff and Sloane Stephens, the 2017 US Open winner, meet in the Ashe night feature match.
Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka’s dreams of home Olympic gold were crushed by a 6-1, 6-4 defeat to Marketa Vondrousova Tuesday as her return to action came to an abrupt end.
Osaka, who lit the Olympic cauldron and was one of the faces of the Games, struggled in an error-strewn display that blew the draw wide open after the earlier exits of world number one Ashleigh Barty and third seed Aryna Sabalenka.
“How disappointed am I? I mean, I’m disappointed in every loss, but I feel like this one sucks more than the others,” said the four-time Grand Slam-winner.
Asked what went wrong, she replied: “Everything — if you watch the match then you would probably see. I feel like there’s a lot of things that I counted on that I couldn’t rely on today.”
The third-round defeat follows a turbulent few months for Osaka, who abandoned her French Open campaign in May after refusing to attend press conferences, citing the need to preserve her mental health.
Osaka also skipped Wimbledon, saying she had been battling depression and anxiety, before returning in Tokyo for her first Olympics including her starring role at the opening ceremony.
“I definitely feel like there was a lot of pressure for this. I think it’s maybe because I haven’t played in the Olympics before and for the first year (it) was a bit much,” said Osaka.
After looking assured in the first two rounds after her eight-week hiatus, Osaka made a dreadful start under the centre court roof at a rain-hit Ariake Tennis Park and never recovered.
“I’ve taken long breaks before and I’ve managed to do well. I’m not saying that I did bad right now, but I do know that my expectations were a lot higher,” she said.
“I feel like my attitude wasn’t that great because I don’t really know how to cope with that pressure so that’s the best that I could have done in this situation.”
– Slow start spells the end – Osaka dropped serve in the opening game and was broken twice more as the 42nd-ranked Vondrousova raced away with the first set.
The second seed broke in the second set but relinquished the early advantage with a double fault that allowed Vondrousova to level at two games apiece.
The 23-year-old grappled with inconsistency, and even when given a sniff of regaining the initiative she had no response to Vondrousova’s array of crafty drop shots.
Osaka saved two match points as she served to stay alive at 4-5 but Vondrousova converted at the third time of asking as the Japanese superstar smacked a backhand wide.
Vondrousova will go on to face Spain’s Paula Badosa or Nadia Podoroska of Argentina in the quarter-finals.
“Of course it’s one of the biggest wins of my career,” said Vondrousova, the 2019 French Open runner-up.
“Naomi is a great player, she has so many Grand Slams, so I knew it would be a tough match. I’m very happy with my play.
“I played amazingly in the first set, and then the second set was really tough. I’m just happy to be through.”
Ukrainian fourth seed Elina Svitolina is the highest-ranked women’s player remaining in Tokyo.
Earlier Stefanos Tsitsipas advanced to the men’s third round as he avenged last month’s Wimbledon loss to Frances Tiafoe.
The Greek third seed downed American Tiafoe 6-3, 6-4 in the opening match of the day as all play on outside courts was delayed an hour by morning drizzle.
Tsitsipas, who is also entered in mixed doubles with Maria Sakkari, will play France’s Ugo Humbert or Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia for a spot in the quarter-finals.
Having lost to Tiafoe in the opening round at Wimbledon, Tsitsipas ensured there was no repeat as a single break in each set enabled him to wrap up victory in 77 minutes.
Japanese star Naomi Osaka crashed out of the Olympics tennis competition on Tuesday after Flora Duffy delivered gold for Bermuda for the first time in the tiny island’s history.
Osaka, who lit the Olympic cauldron in last week’s opening ceremony, produced an error-strewn performance in losing 6-1, 6-4 to Marketa Vondrousova, ending her cherished dream of winning on home soil.
The 23-year-old — one of the faces of the Tokyo Games — had not played since May, when she walked out of the French Open saying media commitments were harming her mental health.
The second seed, who was broken five times in the match, will be bitterly disappointed at missing out on a chance of Olympic gold, especially as world number one Ashleigh Barty lost in the first round.
Triathlete Duffy won the first gold of the day in the women’s event, making Bermuda the smallest territory or nation in terms of population to win a gold medal at a Summer Games.
The 33-year-old timed 1hr 55min 36sec to come home more than a minute ahead of Britain’s Georgia Taylor-Brown, with American Katie Zaferes taking the bronze.
For Duffy it was a welcome reward after persistent injuries and a diagnosis of anaemia in 2013.
“I have achieved my dream of winning a gold medal, but also winning Bermuda’s first gold medal,” she said.
“It’s bigger than me and that’s a really cool moment. That was the longest kilometre of my life (the final one of the run).”
– Pool duel – Elsewhere, swimming powerhouses Australia and the United States won one gold medal each in the morning pool session and are on three golds apiece.
Australian world-record holder Kaylee McKeown upstaged American arch-rival Regan Smith to claim the women’s 100m Olympic backstroke crown as Russia and Britain also won golds.
McKeown, who shattered Smith’s world record last month, flew through the water at the Tokyo Aquatic Center to touch in 57.47 seconds, a new Olympic record and only fractionally outside her own world best.
Smith had to settle for third behind Rio Olympic bronze medallist Kylie Masse of Canada.
McKeown, who lost her father last year to brain cancer, said: “It’s not necessarily what I’ve been through. Everyone has a journey of their own and it just so happens that mine’s been a really tough one.”
On a day of upsets, American women’s 100m breaststroke world-record holder and defending champion Lilly King was beaten, and teammate and 100m backstroke champion Ryan Murphy also tasted defeat.
King was stunned by 17-year-old compatriot Lydia Jacoby, who swam a scintillating final 50m to touch in 1:04.95 and edge her into bronze, with South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker taking silver.
Russian swimmers Evgeny Rylov and Kliment Kolesnikov took gold and silver in the 100m backstroke, pushing Murphy into third place.
Britain’s Tom Dean came back from two bouts of coronavirus to edge out team-mate Duncan Scott and win the 200m freestyle.
“I contracted Covid twice in the last 12 months,” he said. “It’s unheard of. When I was sitting in my flat in isolation, an Olympic gold seem a million miles off, but here we are.”
– Biles pressure – Later, all eyes will be on US gymnastics star Simone Biles in the women’s team final as the 24-year-old four-time Olympic champion seeks to erase the memory of an uncharacteristically error-strewn qualifying competition.
Biles made mistakes on floor and vault on Sunday and the other Americans followed suit as they failed to post the top score of the day for the first time at a world championships or Olympics since 2010.
The US women came to Tokyo as firm favourites but Biles admitted to feeling the pressure in an Instagram post on Monday, saying “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times.”
With spectators banned from the gymnastics and most events at the Games to protect the Japanese public from coronavirus, Biles does not have a crowd to inspire her.
But it would be a huge shock if she failed to win a fifth gold to kick off her attempt to equal or surpass Soviet great Larisa Latynina’s record of nine gymnastics titles.
Novak Djokovic strolled into the third round of the Tokyo Olympics tennis tournament on Monday as Japanese star Naomi Osaka’s path to gold opened up further after a host of leading women’s seeds exited.
Djokovic smacked 14 aces in a 6-4, 6-3 win over Germany’s 48th-ranked Jan-Lennard Struff and will play Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina for a place in the quarter-finals.
The world number one had led calls for organisers to push back start times to avoid the worst of the punishing heat after blazing sunshine brought the extreme weather policy into play in round one.
But a gentle breeze and slightly overcast skies at Ariake Tennis Park made for less brutal conditions on the third day of the Games.
“I was struggling with certain things in the first round, but today was far more pleasant to play, just a higher level of tennis on my side,” said Djokovic.
“I’m very pleased with the way I felt on the court.”
As Djokovic edges closer towards a Golden Grand Slam, after already snapping up the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon titles this year, he appears unfazed by the rising pressure.
“I think that once you reach the top spots in the rankings and start winning Slams, you’re going to experience different kinds of expectations and pressure from yourself and people around,” said Djokovic.
“Being a Grand Slam champion and being number one in the world carries a lot of weight.”
Osaka raced into the last 16 as she powered past Switzerland’s Viktorija Golubic 6-3, 6-2 in just over an hour, playing her second match in as many days after lighting the Olympic cauldron on Friday.
“Honestly, I feel like I was a bit more nervous before the match,” said Osaka.
“I felt a lot of butterflies, but I think as I started playing and feeling more comfortable, I knew that no matter what it would be a great match.”
Before arriving at the Games, Osaka had not played since May, when she walked out of the French Open saying media commitments were harming her mental health.
Sabalenka, Swiatek and Kvitova lose
The second seed is the highest-ranked player left in the women’s draw following the shock first-round exit of world number one and Wimbledon champion Ashleigh Barty.
Third seed Aryna Sabalenka was beaten by Donna Vekic in the second round Monday.
“It definitely would mean a lot for me to win gold here, but I know it’s a process,” said Osaka, who next plays 2019 French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova.
“I know that these are the best players in the world and I honestly haven’t played in a while so I’m trying to take it one match at a time. But all in all I’m just really happy to be here.”
Sabalenka lost 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7/3) to Vekic, while 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek was left in tears after going down in straight sets to Spain’s Paula Badosa.
Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck knocked out Czech 10th seed Petra Kvitova in three sets as Sara Sorribes Tormo backed up her defeat of Barty with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Fiona Ferro.
Elina Svitolina was in danger of joining the exodus of top players, but the Ukrainian scrapped her way past Ajla Tomljanovic 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova beat Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez 6-2, 6-4 and two-time Grand Slam winner Garbine Muguruza swatted China’s Wang Qiang aside for the loss of just three games.
Alexander Zverev is a potential semi-final opponent for Djokovic. The German strolled past Colombia’s Daniel Elahi Galan 6-2, 6-2 and second seed Daniil Medvedev thrashed Sumit Nagal 6-2, 6-1.
Medvedev will play the volatile Fabio Fognini in round three, with Spanish sixth seed Pablo Carreno Busta getting the better of Marin Cilic 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.
Japan’s Naomi Osaka, the star of the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony, began her quest for gold Sunday with a 6-1, 6-4 win over China’s Zheng Saisai in her first match since taking a break for mental health reasons.
The second-seeded Osaka, the favourite for gold following the shock first-round exit of Ashleigh Barty, will play Switzerland’s Viktorija Golubic in the last 32.
Australian Open champion Osaka had not played since May, when she walked out of the French Open saying that media commitments were harming her mental health.
Osaka, who was chosen to light the Olympic cauldron on Friday, is attempting to become her country’s first Olympic tennis champion.
Emili Omuro was thrilled by Naomi Osaka’s star turn at the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony, but the biracial teenager says Japan must do more to accept people of mixed heritage.
Four-time Grand Slam winner Osaka, whose mother is Japanese and father Haitian, climbed a replica Mount Fuji on Friday to light the cauldron in the ceremony’s crowning moment.
And she wasn’t the only athlete of dual heritage representing the host.
Japanese-Beninese NBA basketball star Rui Hachimura was one of the flagbearers leading Japan’s team into the Olympic Stadium.
Osaka and Hachimura are adored in Japan, and boast lucrative sponsorship and advertising deals.
But many young people of black and Japanese heritage still struggle in an often conservative and largely homogenous society.
“There were many times when it was hard,” 14-year-old Omuro, born to a Japanese mother and a black American father, told AFP of her childhood in a town north of Tokyo.
“People would whisper behind my back and make fun of me at extra-curricular clubs, or when I was walking down the street.”
Looking to draw attention to the bullying and discrimination faced by some biracial Japanese, Omuro applied and was chosen to be a torchbearer in the nationwide Olympic flame relay before the Games.
She also hoped to highlight the country’s increasing but often overlooked racial diversity.
“Some people say, ‘for mixed people, bullying is inevitable.’ And other people don’t know there is discrimination, or pretend not to see it,” she said.
– ‘Ignorance, not hate’ – When coronavirus measures began to force sections of the relay off public roads, Omuro reconsidered taking part, worried about the pandemic.
But she ultimately decided her participation would be important.
“We need to create a society where people can feel at ease, even if they are different.”
Kinota Braithwaite is painfully aware of how discrimination can affect Japanese biracial children.
The black Canadian’s daughter Mio, whose mother is Japanese, suffered racist taunts in second grade in Tokyo.
“This happened to me when I was a kid growing up in Canada, and I thought that the world was a place where this wouldn’t happen any more,” he told AFP.
“So it really broke my heart.”
This year, he published a children’s book called “Mio The Beautiful” about his daughter’s experience.
And he gives talks in schools to raise awareness of an issue that he says Japanese teachers are often not equipped to handle.
Braithwaite, a teacher himself, sees discrimination in Japan as largely driven by “ignorance, not hate”.
Athletes like Osaka and Hachimura give his two children “role models”, he said.
And the pair are huge fans — “My son has a Rui Hachimura water bottle, he has his hair cut like Rui, he plays basketball,” he laughed.
“For Japanese people, it sort of opens their eyes too, which is a good thing.”
– Representation ‘does matter’ – Japan remains a largely homogenous society.
An analysis of government data by Kyodo News agency found just 20,000 of 1.02 million babies born in 2014 had Japanese and non-Japanese parents.
And only recently has the image of mixed Japanese started to include those with black heritage, said Sayaka Osanami Torngren, associate professor of international migration and ethnic relations at Malmo University in Sweden.
“Historically, mixed persons have always existed (in Japan), but the image of mixed persons has always been white or Caucasian and Japanese,” said Torngren.
Now, more people of black and Japanese or mixed Asian heritage are “raising their voices and addressing their experiences of discrimination or racism”.
Even stars like Washington Wizards power forward Hachimura and Osaka are not immune to racist language and tone-deaf depictions.
In 2019, Osaka’s sponsor Nissin Foods was accused of “whitewashing” over an animated advert depicting the 23-year-old with light skin, and a Japanese comedy duo apologised after joking she was “too sunburned” and needed “bleach”.
Hachimura meanwhile revealed this year that he receives racist messages “almost every day”.
“There are people who say there is no racism in Japan,” wrote his brother Aren Hachimura, posting a hateful message he received online.
“But I want people to pay attention to the issue of racism.”
So seeing Hachimura and Osaka represent Japan on the global stage is important, said Torngren.
Defending champion Naomi Osaka, who withdrew from the French Open due to mental issues and skipped Wimbledon, and Roger Federer, who missed the Olympics with a knee injury, were named Wednesday to the US Open tennis field.
The US Tennis Association named the men’s and women’s singles lineups for the August 30-September 12 event at Flushing Meadows, where spectators will return at 100% capacity.
The ATP Tour’s 103 top-ranked players are entered for New York with top-ranked Novak Djokovic chasing a calendar-year Grand Slam after a Wimbledon victory that lifted him level with ninth-ranked Federer and third-ranked Rafael Nadal with a men’s record 20 career Grand Slam titles.
Only Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969 and Don Budge in 1938 have managed a men’s calendar Slam.
Djokovic, who will seek Olympic gold in Tokyo, could become only the second player to win all four Slam singles crowns and Olympic gold in the same year after Steffi Graf in 1988.
Other men’s entrants include sixth-ranked defending champion Dominic Thiem, past US Open winners Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic, world number two Daniil Medvedev and fourth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Britain’s Andy Murray, the 2012 US Open champion, was the first player on the alternate list and will gain a spot in the main draw should anyone in the field withdraw.
Sixteen qualifiers and eight wildcards will complete the field.
On the women’s side, top-ranked Ashleigh Barty of Australia, who won her second Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, is among 15 Slam singles champions in the field, seven of them in the top 10.
Four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka of Japan, ranked second, is also in the lineup along with 2020 Australian Open champion and world number four Sofia Kenin, fifth-ranked 2019 US Open winner Bianca Andreescu, eighth-ranked Iga Swiatek and former world number ones Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep.
In all, 100 of the top 104 players in the WTA rankings opted into the event.