NEW YORK — Naomi Osaka, who battled through to the Western and Southern Open women’s singles final while navigating an intense degree of attention because of her social activism, has withdrawn from Saturday’s championship match, citing a hamstring injury suffered in her semifinal.
Osaka was scheduled to play resurgent former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open singles champion, who will now get credit for her first tournament win since March of 2016. Coming into this tournament, Azarenka, 31, had played just two singles matches in 2020 — both losses.
“I’m sorry to have to withdraw today with an injury,” Osaka said in a statement. “I pulled my left hamstring yesterday in the second set tiebreak and it has not recovered overnight as I had hoped. This has been an emotional week and I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support.”
The hamstrung injury occurred after Osaka won the first set from WTA No. 22 Elise Mertens, then became embroiled in a second-set tiebreaker. At 1-1 in the tiebreaker, with Mertens serving, Osaka ran wide and pulled up, grabbing her left hamstring. She continued to play at a high level through the tiebreaker, but gently touched the sore area a number of times before she won the tiebreaker 7-5.
“For me, my left hamstring always gets a bit tired. Honestly, it’s not something I can control,” Osaka, who is Japanese but grew up in the US, told reporters in Japanese. “I think also because I haven’t played matches in a long time is definitely affecting it. Hopefully with, like, if I go to sleep and wake up it will be better.”
Osaka generated headlines earlier this week when she declared she would boycott her semifinal match, originally scheduled for Thursday, to express solidarity with those protesting the shooting of 29-year old African-American Jacob Blake. The decision, announced on social media, led the tournament, with support from the WTA, ATP, and USTA, to suspend all play on Thursday. It also brought an enormous amount of attention to Osaka, a shy 22-year old who has often shunned attention but felt conscience-bound to speak out. All four semifinal matches ultimately were held on Friday.
The Western and Southern Open is traditionally played in Cincinnati, but this year it was moved to New York due to the concerns and protocols triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. It has been played in the controlled environment at the USTA National Tennis Center, the first event in the “bubble double” that will conclude with the US Open, which begins on Monday.
Last year at this tournament, in Ohio, Osaka suffered a minor injury that threatened her ability to compete at the US Open, where she was defending champion.
On Wednesday, she said of that experience, “At the time it was very concerning. I remember I was, like, crying in my hotel, because, you know, New York is one of my favorite places, and I was the defending champion last year, so I felt, like, Wow, I can’t miss this tournament.”
Osaka did eventually play, taking a fourth-round loss to Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic.