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Naomi Osaka advances to Western & Southern Open final

Naomi Osaka returns a shot to Elise Mertens

Naomi Osaka returns a shot to Elise Mertens during the Western & Southern Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Friday. Credit: Getty Images/Matthew Stockman

Naomi Osaka entered the Grandstand Court on Friday wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt, continuing to show the concern and support that caused the Western & Southern Open to pause on Thursday after Osaka originally pulled out of the semifinals over the shooting of Jacob Blake.

Battling her own serve as much as she was battling Elise Mertens, Osaka won their semifinal, 6-2, 7-6 (5), to set up a Saturday final against Victoria Azarenka, a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 winner over Johanna Konta.

Osaka discussed her decision late on Wednesday to pull out of the semifinals, and the decision of the USTA, ATP and WTA to cancel play on Thursday in sympathy with her position. She also said there was a bit of confusion.

 “So I guess after my quarters match I saw everything the NBA was doing.  Then I felt like I also needed to raise my voice, too. So I called Stu [Duguid],  my agent, and we talked it over.  Then we called the WTA, and they said that they would love to support and they were going to push play back a day.  So I put out my statement. I feel like this is where everyone gets confused, because I didn't say I was going to withdraw from the tournament.  I just said I wasn't going to play the next day.

"And today is Friday, and when I posted it was on Wednesday.  I think that's where there was a bit of confusion.”

 It wasn’t her best tennis on Friday, but it hasn’t been throughout this tournament. Except, she’s found a way to win.

 “Yeah, I mean, honestly, for me, I don’t really sleep that well before big matches anyways, or during tournaments,” Osaka said.  “But yeah, last night was really stressful, and I woke up sweating.  I had, like, a really bad stomach ache, and I think it was from nerves.  I know why, and it's because I feel like in my brain I felt like I had to win this match and there was no possibility of losing it.”

 Mertens was fully supportive and seemed not at all fazed by not getting a free pass into the final.

 “I was not really thinking about a walkover,” said Mertens, who converted only three of the 21 break points she had against Osaka. “So I'm actually happy that she played, because, you know, I can see where my level is at against her, and even more important is the tournament that’s coming, the U.S. Open. I totally respected her decision.  I think it's great what she does, and she's a role model for tennis.  So totally accepted.” 

For Osaka, being a leader rather than a follower isn’t exactly natural, but that’s where she’s found herself.

 “I don't feel like I'm being brave,” Osaka said. “I just feel like I'm doing what I should be doing.  Yeah, so honestly, when people say courageous or anything, I don't really resonate that well with it.”

Djokovic in final. In the men’s draw, Novak Djokovic  overcame neck and stomach issues to reach the final with a 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (0) win over the nettlesome Roberto Bautista Agut.  He will face Milos Raonic on Saturday after the Canadian defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas, 7-6, (5), 6-3. Djokovic remains undefeated in 2020 at 22-0.

New York Sports