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Herald Sun hits out in 'racist' cartoon row as Naomi Osaka breaks silence on Serena Williams controversy

Wednesday's Herald Sun front page was covered in cartoons, and right, Serena Williams following the match. Credit: Twitter/Herald Sun/AP

One of Australia’s largest newspapers has backed its cartoonist amid a global controversy over an illustration of Serena Williams branded "racist" and "sexist" by critics, by covering its front page in his work.

It comes as US Open winner Naomi Osaka told Ellen DeGeneres she wasn't clear at the time what was going on.

"I couldn't hear and I was looking away but I heard a lot of people in the crowd making noises and I really wanted to turn around," Osaka said.

However, the Japanese tennis player said despite the loss, Williams had a few words of encouragement for her.

"She said like that she was proud of me and that I should know the crowd wasn't booing at me."

Williams said a few words of encouragement. Credit: AP

JK Rowling and Reverend Jesse Jackson were among a “tidal wave” of critics to denounce the image by Herald Sun cartoonist Mark Knight after it appeared in its paper on Monday.

Mr Knight depicted the tennis star having a tantrum and smashing her racket on the floor during defeat to Naomi Osaka.

In the background the umpire is pictured asking Osaka to let Williams win.

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During Saturday's match, Williams repeatedly lost her temper before Japan's Osaka beat her 6-2 6-4.

The 36-year-old received a warning for coaching, was docked a point for smashing a racket, and umpire Carlos Ramos penalised her a game after she called him a liar and a thief.

On Tuesday, Mr Knight hit back at the criticism he had come under, calling it "crazy", while an editor at the the newspaper said the drawing had "nothing to do with gender or race" and was simply about a "champion tennis player having a mega tantrum on the world stage".

The cartoonist has since deleted his Twitter account after tweeting a picture of the controversial image shortly after he created it, saying online abuse had been directed at his family by some users.

The Herald Sun has continued to back Mr Knight and hit out at "self-appointed censors", filling the front page of its Wednesday edition with cartoons, including the contentious Williams image, along with likenesses of US President Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Under the headline “welcome to PC world”, the paper said: “If the self-appointed censors of Mark Knight get their way on his Serena Williams cartoon, our new politically correct life will be very dull indeed.”

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It came after the paper’s editor, Damon Johnston, said the cartoon “rightly mocks poor behaviour by a tennis legend” and Mr Knight has the “has the full support of everyone” at the paper.

Harry Potter author JK Rowling was one of those to criticise the cartoon earlier in the week, saying it had reduced “one of the greatest sportswomen alive to racist and sexist tropes”.

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She also criticised the depiction of Osaka as a “faceless prop” in the background of the image.

The cartoon was also criticised by the veteran civil rights campaigner Reverend Jesse Jackson, who said it was "despicable" and "tried and failed to diminish the greatness and grace of Serena Williams.

"Racism in any form is unacceptable."

Melbourne-born basketball star Ben Simmons also hit out at the depiction, tweeting: “To disrespect Serena Williams, a 23 time Grand Slam Champion, in this light is truly disappointing. As an Australian, I am truly disappointed."

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Hitting out at the criticism he has come under, Mr Knight told the newspaper: “The cartoon was just about Serena on the day having a tantrum.

“A few days beforehand I had actually drawn a cartoon of Australian Nick Kyrgios and his bad behaviour at the US Open, so I’m not targeting [Serena].

"Serena is a champion.

“I drew her as an African-American woman, she’s powerfully built, she wears these outrageous costumes when she plays tennis – she’s interesting to draw.

“I drew her as she is.

"As an African-American woman, so this whole business that I am some sort of racist, calling on racial cartoons from the past, it’s just made up. It’s not there.”

While in an editorial on Tuesday, the Herald Sun said a “tidal wave of ill-informed critics” should “take a breath and consider the facts”.

Williams was “simply outplayed and lost her temper in a gigantic and ill-disciplined blow-up,” the column said.

“The world has officially gone mad when a celebrated cartoonist is condemned by the social media hordes for depicting a famous sports star throwing an unedifying tantrum.”