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Naomi Osaka Returns After Protest Prompts Tournament’s Pause

Two days after leading her sport into a social justice work stoppage, Naomi Osaka won her semifinal match on Friday in the Western & Southern Open, a match she was willing to forfeit to spark a broader conversation in the tennis world about racism.

Osaka beat Elise Mertens of Belgium, 6-2, 7-6 (5), underneath a hazy sun at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, where the tournament was moved this year from Cincinnati to so players could prepare for the United States Open while limiting travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

Osaka walked to the court in a black T-shirt with a picture of a clenched fist and the words “Black Lives Matter” displayed across the front. She took command of the match early with her powerful serve and forehand. An overhead winner from the baseline in the second game of the match appeared to set the tone, though Osaka did grow shaky in the second set before prevailing.

Osaka had won a hard-fought, three-set quarterfinal Wednesday afternoon. About five hours later, she announced that she would not play her semifinal match, initially scheduled for Thursday, to draw attention to the issue of police violence against Black people in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.

Osaka was following the lead of the N.B.A.’s Milwaukee Bucks, the W.N.B.A., Major League Soccer, and several Major League Baseball teams that decided not play games Wednesday and Thursday.

Osaka’s announcement Wednesday night accelerated discussion that tennis officials had been having that evening about how tennis needed to react to the sudden halt in sports following the shooting of Blake, said Chris Widmaier, the chief spokesman for the United States Tennis Association. U.S.T.A. officials and organizers of the Western & Southern Open had not decided on a course of action until Osaka announced her willingness to withdraw. Two hours later, tennis officials suspended play, in part to ease the onus of taking a stand from a single player.

That move and the decision not to withdraw Osaka from the tournament allowed Osaka to remain in the competition. By midday Thursday, Osaka had committed to continuing when play resumed Friday.

“I was (and am) ready and prepared to concede the match to my opponent,” Osaka said Thursday. “However, after my announcement and lengthy consultation with the WTA and U.S.T.A., I have agreed at their request to play on Friday. They offered to postpone all matches until Friday and in my mind that brings more attention to the movement.”

Stuart Duguid, Osaka’s agent, made clear that she did not change her mind. “She decided that her impact would be greater by pausing — in the exact same way as the N.B.A. and W.N.B.A. have done — which she did not know was an option at the time of her initial statement,” he said. “This is not a U-turn; this is a doubling down. This is a call to action.”

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