Naomi Osaka of Japan serves against Anett Kontaveit of Estonia during the Western & Southern Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Wednesday
Naomi Osaka of Japan serves against Anett Kontaveit of Estonia during the Western & Southern Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Wednesday
AFP

New York

Fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka reached the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open and withdrew a few hours later in a call for racial justice, drawing quick support from other players.

Soon after, the whole tournament was put on hold for a day.

"As a sport, tennis is collectively taking a stance against racial inequality and social injustice that once again has been thrust to the forefront in the United States.

The USTA, ATP Tour, and WTA have decided to recognise this moment in time by pausing tournament play at the Western & Southern Open on Thursday, August 27," the three oganisations said in a statement on Wednesday.

Osaka, the Japanese star and last top 10 seed in the women's bracket, joined professional athletes in basketball, baseball and soccer in demanding change after Jacob Blake was shot by police.

Osaka tweeted that as a Black woman, she feels compelled to pull out of the tournament to put a focus on police shooting Black people.

"I don't expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction," Osaka tweeted.

"Watching the continued genocide of Black people at the hand of the police is honestly making me sick to my stomach.

"I'm exhausted of having a new hashtag pop up every few days and I'm extremely tired of having this same conversation over and over again. When will it ever be enough?"

Her move quickly got support from others players on the tour.

Sloane Stephens retweeted the message and added: "Say it louder! Proud of you."

After reaching the semifinals late Wednesday, Milos Raonic said the ATP and WTA should consider a joint action that goes beyond a small group of players.

"I think real disruption, that's what makes change, and I think a lot of real disruption is caused by affecting people in a monetary way and can force some kind of change," he said.

"I'm hoping at least we on the men's tour as well as the women's, we band together and we show support."

All NBA and WNBA games, three Major League Baseball games and five of six Major League Soccer games were called off Wednesday as athletes demanded racial justice.

Osaka beat No. 12 Anett Kontaveit 4-6 6-2 7-5 on Wednesday afternoon, reaching the semifinals as the only top 10 player left in the bracket. Late Wednesday, she was still scheduled to play No. 14 Elise Mertens in the semifinals.

Victoria Azarenka will play eighth-seeded Johanna Konta in the other women's semifinal. Konta beat Maria Sakkari 6-4 6-3, and Azarenka advanced in straight sets against Ons Jabeur.

Azarenka, who was No. 1 in 2012, acknowledged Wednesday that she had considered retiring at the start of the year. She's currently No. 59 but has reached her first semifinal since April 2019.

"In January, I didn't know if I was going to play at all," she said.

"So end of January, I decided: You know what? I might try, last time, and see what happens."

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