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Naomi Osaka moves into Western & Southern Open final but protest elicits backlash

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Naomi Osaka brought the Western & Southern Open to a halt on Thursday with her decision to stand down from her semi-final on political grounds, thus emulating the basketballer, baseballers and MLS footballers who had postponed their matches in protest at American police brutality.

Osaka agreed to resume on Friday once the tournament had supported her by cancelling all the other matches scheduled for Thursday as well. Remarkably, she even managed to beat Elise Mertens in straight sets. But there have been significant knock-on effects, including backstage frustration from male players who claimed they hadn’t been consulted about the decision to take a day off.

It was reported last night that Vasek Pospisil, long an outspoken critic of the way tennis is run, is poised to launch a new union for the male players on Saturday night in New York called the Professional Tennis Players’ Association. But this move, in turn, drew a desperate letter from Andrea Gaudenzi, the chairman of the men’s tour.

Gaudenzi wrote to all the male players saying “You have what other athletes in other sports would strive for – a seat at the boardroom table. That is what players fought for in the creation of the ATP Tour. It makes no sense why you would be better served by shifting your role from the inside to the outside of the governance structure”.

He also suggested that “any players who are advancing this matter while holding elected positions on the ATP Player Council” – ie Pospisil – “[should] reconsider their positions with immediate effect.”

Back on the court, Johanna Konta made a strong start to her own semi-final against former world No1 Victoria Azarenka but ended up going down to a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 defeat. Asked about the suspension of Thursday’s play, she said “I think the mantra of 2020 is ‘Just roll with the punches.’ I didn’t get the chance to speak with anyone about it. Everyone got on with their day.”

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