Naomi Osaka into W&S final after calling for racial justice

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Naomi Osaka, of Japan, returns a shot from Elise Mertens, of Belgium, during the semifinals at the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

NEW YORK – After two days of little sleep and unexpected stress, Naomi Osaka rose to the moment.

The two-time Grand Slam champion returned to the court after bringing the push for racial justice to the forefront on the tennis tour, and she advanced to the finals of the Western & Southern Open on Friday with a straight-set victory.

This one meant a lot.

“Of course I feel extra pressure now that there's more eyes watching me,” she said.

After a one-day break in the tournament prompted by her decision to speak out, Osaka reached her first Western & Southern title match by gritting out a 6-2, 7-6 (5) victory over Elise Mertens.

The 22-year-old Osaka was hoping someone else in tennis would take the lead in speaking up for racial justice — she considers herself more of a follower — but realized she would have to make the first step. She acknowledged that it was “a bit frightening” to get so much attention the last two days, given how she prefers to stay in the background.

“I feel like it's been kind of hectic and I honestly haven't been able to get that much sleep yesterday, so I was glad to win today,” she said.

Osaka tweeted after her semifinal victory that she was exhausted and “sick to my stomach” over the many Black people killed by police. She had decided to withdraw from the tournament as a statement in support of racial justice, joining athletes in other sports.