It’s Azarenka’s With Asterisks: Vika Wins @CincyTennis Title After Osaka Withdraws
The hot mess that is the 2020 Western & Southern Open has reached its exciting conclusion: with the withdrawal of Naomi Osaka, suffering from a left hamstring injury which occurred in Saturday’s semifinal against Johanna Konta. Vika Azarenka is your women’s singles champion.
In a statement from the tournament, Osaka said that “this has been an emotional week and I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support.” Osaka’s initial announcement on Thursday that she would be withdrawing from the Western & Southern Open taught us a lot about who she is as a person, and even more about tournament organizers clumsiness in responding to off-court issues.
Before American tennis’ governing body even had a chance to decide if it was sufficiently woke, it postponed all play on Friday at the tournament in Queens. According to reports from Tennis.com and ESPN, Osaka tweeted her decision not to play and in less than two hours, the USTA announced that all play would be suspended. Osaka’s courage to make her decision was effectively co-opted by the USTA for their gain. Their Come-to-Jesus moment is not one to be celebrated, as it was only made after Osaka’s decision. The tournament-wide postponement would never have happened if there had been paying ticket holders in the stands and it most certainly would not have happened if the tournament were held in its ancestral home of Mason, Ohio. If Donald Young had announced his intention to withdraw from the first round of the event, would the USTA have postponed 32 matches on a Monday? It’s clear that Osaka’s star power carries enormous weight.
While I continue to consider Osaka’s decision a bold one, her fellow players didn’t ask for a day off. This is unprecedented, and as you know, horrible injustices occur against minorities and the poor every single day of the year. I don’t pretend to know how to eliminate police brutality and social injustice, but I wonder if a precedent is now set: that if something horrible happens to an individual somewhere, that a single athlete can put an entire tournament on hold. I pray that we never lose another human being to police brutality, but in a country of 329 million people, it will sadly happen again. Maybe there is a better way to seek redress for these injustices. To beat the USTA at their own game of glomming on to Osaka’s decision as if it were their own original thought, Osaka should have continued to do the right thing and bowed out of the tournament. We always knew there would be an asterisk next to this year’s Western & Southern Open in the record books, but we didn’t know there would be a ball basket full on the women’s side. Now we’ll remember it for Osaka’s courageous leadership, her left hamstring and virtually nothing else.