Naomi Osaka pulled out of the Western & Southern Open final Saturday because of a left hamstring injury, giving the title to Victoria Azarenka in a walkover.
The tournament announced Osaka’s decision about 90 minutes before the championship match was supposed to begin in Louis Armstrong Stadium at the site of the U.S. Open.
The Western & Southern Open normally is held in Ohio but was moved to New York this year because of the coronavirus pandemic as part of a two-tournament “controlled environment.”
The U.S. Open starts Monday. One of Osaka’s two Grand Slam titles came at Flushing Meadows in 2018.
“I’m sorry to have to withdraw today with an injury,” Osaka said in a statement released by the Western & Southern Open. “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.”
Osaka, a 22-year-old who was born in Japan and is now based in the U.S., brought the push for racial justice to the tennis tour by saying she was not going to play in her semifinal, joining athletes in the NBA, Major League Baseball and other sports in sitting out this week in reaction to the police shooting in Wisconsin of a Black man, Jacob Blake.
Osaka’s stance prompted the tournament to say it was taking a “pause” to back the cause and scrapping all scheduled matches for Thursday.
When play resumed Friday, Osaka did compete, and she beat Elise Mertens 6-2, 7-6 (5). But Osaka grabbed her left hamstring after chasing a ball during the tiebreaker.
The 59th-ranked Azarenka collects her first title since 2016 and the 21st of her career, 20th at a hard-court event. She is a two-time Australian Open champion, two-time U.S. Open runner-up and has been ranked as high as No. 1.
Azarenka also won the Western & Southern Open in 2013.
The 31-year-old Azarenka considered retiring at the start of the year.
“I haven’t felt this way in so, so long — probably ever, to be honest,” she said after her 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 semifinal win over Johanna Konta on Friday. “That’s what I’m enjoying.”