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Play paused at the Western & Southern Open on Thursday as tennis takes ‘stance against racial inequality’

hannahwilks in WTA Cincinnati Open 27 Aug 2020
Naomi Osaka (PA Images)

There will be no matches at the Cincinnati-New York tournament on Thursday 27 August as organizers ‘pause’ play after Naomi Osaka statement.

The USTA, ATP and WTA issued a joint statement confirming that there will be no play at the Western & Southern Open on Thursday, in response to events in the USA following the shooting of Jacob Blake.

The decision followed a statement by Naomi Osaka, who announced on social media that she would not play her semifinal match against Elise Mertens scheduled for Thursday.

Osaka was responding to the news that Blake had been shot seven times in the back, in front of his children, by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The NBA postponed play-off games after the Milwaukee Bucks forfeited their game against the Orlando Magic. Baseball and soccer matches were also called off.

Osaka wrote:

‘[B]efore I am an athlete, I am a black woman. And as a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis.

‘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.

‘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?’

The world no. 10 finished her post by hashtagging Blake; Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old woman who was shot eight times by police when they entered her Louisville, Kentucky apartment on 13 March; Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old man who died after being put in a chokehold and injected with ketamine by police on 24 August; and George Floyd, the 46-year-old man who died when a policeman knelt on his neck for seven minutes and 46 seconds in Minneapolis on 25 May. Floyd’s death in particular ignited nationwide protests across the USA and solidarity protests around the world.

After Osaka’s statement, the USTA, ATP and WTA released a joint statement announcing the ‘pause’ in play.

‘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 statement read.

‘The USTA, ATP Tour and WTA Tour have decided to recognize this moment in time by pausing tournament play at the Western & Southern Open on Thursday, August 27. Play will resume on Friday, August 28.’

It’s not entirely clear whether Osaka will play the semifinal against Mertens on Friday, or has given the Belgian a walkover into the final, which seems to have been her original intent.

The remaining semifinals – Novak Djokovic against Roberto Bautista Agut, Milos Raonic against Stefanos Tsitsipas and Victoria Azarenka against Johanna Konta – will now take place on Friday.

The draw for the US Open, which begins on Monday 31 August, is still scheduled to happen on Thursday.