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Osaka keen to spread awareness about racial injustice

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Japan’s Naomi Osaka says she wants to spread awareness about racial injustice after the former U.S. Open champion walked onto court with a mask bearing the name of Breonna Taylor on Monday.

Aug 31, 2020; Flushing Meadows, New York, USA; Naomi Osaka (JPN) hits the ball in the stands following her match with Misaki Doi (JPN) on day one of the 2020 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. / Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Osaka, who moved to the United States as a three-year-old, has seven separate masks with her at Flushing Meadows and hopes to wear a different one at each stage on her path to the final.

The mask she wore in her first-round match against Misaki Doi was dedicated to Taylor, a Black woman killed by police officers who burst into her apartment in March.

“For me, I just want to spread awareness,” the fourth seed told reporters on a video conference. “I’m aware that tennis is watched all over the world, and maybe there is someone that doesn’t know Breonna Taylor’s story.

“Maybe they’ll like Google it or something. I feel like the more people know the story, then the more interesting or interested they’ll become in it.”

The 22-year-old Osaka has been at the forefront of protests from tennis players against racial injustice in the United States.

She said she appreciated U.S. Open organisers putting up anti-racism artwork and ‘Black Lives Matter’ banners in the showcourts of Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in the absence of spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“I just feel like we’re heading towards a great direction, and there’s a lot of players that are supporting it,” she added after her 6-2 5-7 6-2 win over compatriot Doi.

“I think there are a lot of voices that are contributing towards a lot of things, so it’s definitely very nice to see.”

While Osaka missed the crowd’s energy during tough moments on court she said the empty stands helped her concentrate as her mind can wander sometimes.

“Like sometimes I will see a person with a cool outfit or something, they’re doing something, and I get distracted.”

Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Peter Rutherford

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