A postmatch interview with Naomi Osaka on Tuesday featured video messages from the parents of Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin, two shooting victims whom Osaka has remembered on her face masks during the US Open.
Osaka, the No. 4 seed, joined the ESPN telecast not long after her 6-3, 6-4 win over Shelby Rogers.
“I just want to say thank you to Naomi Osaka for representing Trayvon Martin on your customized mask,” Sybrina Fulton, Martin’s mother, said. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Continue to do well, continue to kick butt at the US Open.”
Ahmaud Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery Sr., said: : “Thank you for the support on my family and God bless you for what you’re doing and you’re supporting our family with my son. And my family really, really appreciates that and God bless you.”
Osaka was visibly struck by the messages, saying on the telecast: “I don’t know. I feel like I’m a vessel, at this point, and in order to spread awareness and, hopefully, it’s not going to dull the pain, but hopefully I can, you know, help with anything that they need.”
Osaka later said at a news conference that she “was just trying really hard not to cry.”
“For me, it’s a bit surreal. It’s extremely touching that they would feel touched by what I’m doing. For me, I feel like what I’ve doing is nothing. It’s a speck of what I could be doing,” Osaka said. “It was really emotional. … I’m really grateful, and I’m really humbled.”
Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, was fatally shot after being pursued by armed white men in Georgia in February. Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager, was unarmed when he was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida in 2012.
Each time on court during the tournament, Osaka has worn a different mask in memory of a victim of racial injustice. On Tuesday, she wore the name of George Floyd on her mask.
A two-time Grand Slam champion, Osaka played powerful, clean tennis to outlast Rogers. But after the win, her message seemed more important than the match result.
“It means a lot; I feel like they’re so strong, I’m not sure what I would be able to do if I was in their position,” she said on the telecast about the families.
Osaka, who won the US Open two years ago, will meet No. 28 seed Jennifer Brady in the semifinals.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.