The defending champion — still playing with her left knee strapped after injuring it in Cincinnati about two weeks ago — overturned a 3-0 deficit in the second to end the nine-match winning streak of Magda Linette 6-2, 6-4 as Wednesday’s rain gave way to warm sunshine in New York.
How did the Japanese-Haitian megastar — who has dual Japanese and American citizenship — feel about having Bryant and Kaepernick rooting her on in the city she used to live in?
“It’s really cool,” Osaka said in her courtside interview. “But honestly I really wanted to finish as fast as possible because I didn’t want them to stay in the sun too long.”
Osaka will face Coco Gauff in a blockbuster Saturday after the teen sensation defeated Timea Babos in Thursday’s night session.
Osaka posted a picture of herself and Bryant on Twitter in August and said she was a fan of “Legacy and the Queen,” a book about a tennis prodigy released by the NBA legend’s Granity Studios.
The 18-time All-Star was partially at the US Open to promote the book and stuck around to watch Gauff.
Kaepernick — the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who garnered worldwide attention for kneeling during the US National Anthem in 2016 in protest of police shootings of black males and social injustice in general — returned to Flushing Meadows.
He received warm applause last year when he watched Serena Williams edge older sister Venus at the US Open. Kaepernick is still without an NFL team.
Osaka had never met him prior to Thursday, she said.
When asked what causes she believes in, Osaka said simply, “being nice to people.”
“For me I just want to treat people, treat people like how you want to be treated,” she told reporters.
“Someone told me that for me to take one second out of my day to sign someone’s ball could be the highlight of their day, and they could have had a really bad day. So for me I took that really into perspective. Just want to spread kindness and positivity even though sometimes I don’t do that on the court. But I’m working on it.”
One young female fan burst into tears when she saw Osaka close up post-match, which left the right-hander “humbled.”
“I’m really grateful, and I’m honestly really humbled by it, because I know as a kid I had my favorite players,” said Osaka.
On Tuesday, Osaka began with a three-set victory over Russia’s big-hitting Anna Blinkova.
The world No. 1 admitted the nerves were there as she began her title defense 12 months after beating idol Serena Williams in one of the most eventful grand slam finals in tennis history.
But Osaka played much more controlled against the 53rd-ranked Pole and even pulled out a 114-mile per hour serve in that second set.
And when she later trailed 3-0 against the counterpuncher and faced three break chances, the serve once again aided the 21-year-old.
Osaka won her second grand slam crown at the Australian Open in January, beating twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in a riveting three-set final.
It was Kvitova’s first grand slam final since being attacked in her home by an intruder at the end of 2016 and suffering severe injuries to her left, playing hand.
Kvitova’s grand slam season has since been affected by a left forearm injury she believes could be related to the attack — she now holds the racket differently — and the Czech fell to former top-10 German Andrea Petkovic 6-4, 6-4 earlier Thursday. Petkovic also got the better of Kvitova at the 2018 Australian Open, winning 10-8 in the decider.
In hindsight, Kvitova said it might have been a mistake to play at Wimbledon this year.
“Maybe I should take one more week (off) before Wimby, but that meant I (was) going to skip Wimby, which on the mental side would be much tougher,” Kvitova told reporters. “Maybe the arm would be much better right now.”
Another Czech, 23-year-old Wimbledon quarterfinalist Karolina Muchova, is Serena Williams’ next foe on Friday after she downed the crafty Hsieh Su-Wei 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(2).