Naomi Osaka had just come back to secure her second United States Open singles title. She had tapped rackets with Victoria Azarenka, thanked the chair umpire and consulted with a WTA Tour media official about the commitments to come.
Only then did she take a moment for herself, returning to the blue court where she became a star in 2018 and gingerly dropping to its surface, lying on her back, hands folded and eyes blinking as she gazed up through the open roof — all alone — for nearly 20 seconds.
“I was thinking about all the times I’ve watched the great players sort of collapse onto the ground and look up into the sky,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to see what they saw.”
Osaka, still just 22, is undoubtedly a great player already, and there was much for her to savor on many levels over the last three weeks. Much to ponder, as well, as she took on not only some of the toughest tennis players in the world but some of the thorniest social issues, as well.
She handled the pressure on both fronts and returned to the fore in women’s tennis with Saturday’s gritty 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory. She wore seven masks with different names for each of her matches to honor Black victims of violence. She said it motivated her — “I wanted more people to say more names” — and she walked on court Saturday with a mask bearing the name of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy shot and killed in Cleveland by a white police officer in 2014.