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Osaka's activism helping her game, says coach Fissette

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Taking a stand against racial injustice has boosted Naomi Osaka’s motivation and energy going into this year’s U.S. Open, her coach Wim Fissette said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Sep 6, 2020; Flushing Meadows, New York, USA; Naomi Osaka of Japan hits balls into the stands after her win against Anett Kontaveit of Estonia on day seven of the 2020 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Former world number one Osaka has walked onto court wearing a different mask dedicated to a Black American who has suffered racial injustice in the United States in each of her matches at Flushing Meadows this year.

Osaka withdrew from her semi-final at the Western & Southern Open following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Wisconsin but later changed her mind after tennis governing bodies paused the tournament for a day as a show of support.

“It’s definitely helping her and giving her even more energy,” Belgian Fissette, who started working with Osaka at the end of 2019, told reporters.

“She always has the motivation. Of course she wants to go really far in this Grand Slam, and obviously she wants to win it. But this is like an extra motivation.

“It’s a very important topic for her. She did unbelievable big thing during the Cincinnati tournament. We support her there because we know how important it is.”

Two-time Grand Slam champion Osaka, who moved to the United States from Japan as a three-year-old, will meet Shelby Rogers on Tuesday for a place in the last four.

Fissette, who has also worked with major winners Kim Clijsters, Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber, said the importance of winning was not lost on Osaka.

“For sure with wearing the masks, she wants to be a role model, but also she knows that it has to go together with the role model on court,” he said.

“So it’s a good combination. Role model off court; also great attitude on court. So far it’s working really well. So I’m very proud of her.”

Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Peter Rutherford