NEW YORK, September 1, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
World No. 1 Naomi Osaka rose to the occasion of playing before a sellout Labor Day weekend crowd of 23,771 fans that featured the defending United States Open champion against American teen sensation Coco Gauff, who was making her Arthur Ashe Stadium debut Saturday night.
Although the 140th-ranked wild card Gauff held her own through the opening set of her highly-anticipated third-round match against the top seed from Japan, ultimately it was Osaka who ended the 15-year-old’s celebrated run in her first US Open main draw. Osaka won 6-3, 6-0 in 65 minutes to remain undefeated (17-0) in her last three hard-court Grand Slam events.
Ahead 4-3 in the opening set, Osaka won the final eight games against Gauff. She converted six of her seven break points and won 74 percent of her first-serve points. Osaka finished with 24 winners and hit 17 unforced errors. Meanwhile, Gauff mustered just eight winners and committed 24 unforced errors. Osaka outpointed Gauff 56-35.
With her third win this week, Osaka advanced to Monday’s round of 16 against No. 13 seed Belinda Bencic from Switzerland, who advanced by walkover against No. 21 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia. Kontaveit was forced to withdraw on Saturday because of a viral infection.
Following Saturday evening’s featured match, with Gauff in tears, Osaka consoled her fallen opponent as both stood together near their respective benches. Then, Osaka encouraged her to stay on court and join her for her post-match interview. By the end, both the winner and the loser shed a few tears.
“I was just thinking, it would be nice for her to address the people that came and watched her play,” said Osaka. “They were cheering for her. I mean, for me, it was just something that was, I don’t know, instinctive I guess.”
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 1, 2019
Later, during her post-match news conference, Osaka kept the mood happy in contrast to the somber demeanor out on the court. “I’m just out here trying my best,” she said. “I’m just going with the flow at this rate. I’ve never defended a Grand Slam before. We out here, you know. We’re just having fun.”
While Osaka and Gauff figure to be competitive rivals for many years to come, their first meeting gave everyone a memorable moment that we won’t soon forget.
By the numbers
While Naomi Osaka came into this year’s US Open just two weeks after retiring from her quarterfinal match against Sofia Kenin at the Western & Southern Open with a left knee injury, she’s dropped just nine games in her past two matches and seems to be picking up momentum, which she’ll need if she hopes to retain her No. 1 ranking. With Osaka defending 2,000 WTA rankings points, she needs to successfully defend her title to remain at the top of the rankings. However, if No. 2 seed Ashleigh Barty reaches the quarterfinals or No. 3 Karolina Pliskova makes it to the semifinal round, Osaka will give up No. 1 regardless of how she fares. Both Barty and Pliskova play their round of 16 matches on Sunday. Barty faces No. 18 seed Wang Qiang of China while Pliskova takes on No. 16 seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain.
As for Coco Gauff, her third-round run moves her closer to achieving a Top 100 ranking. In her two main-draw appearances this summer (Wimbledon and the US Open), she’s compiled a very respectable 5-2 win-loss record. Three of her seven matches have been against Grand Slam champions – Venus Williams, Serena Williams and Osaka. Coco-mania at the US Open will live on for at least Sunday as she and fellow American Caty McNally play their second-round doubles match against ninth seeds Nicole Melichar of the United States and Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic.
What they’re saying
Naomi Osaka on Coco Gauff: “I literally was training at the same place as her. It was always just us putting in the most amount of hours. She was always with her dad just practicing. Honestly, I think she was practicing more than me. It’s crazy to me to see how far she’s come in such a little amount of time.”
What they’re tweeting
• Reem Abulleil @ReemAbulleil, Dubai-based freelance tennis writer: “Tonight’s moment between Osaka & Gauff is so iconic & we’re gonna remember it for a long time. Osaka gave us a glimpse of what it means to her to witness Gauff’s journey, how she relates it to her own, how they are both impacting so many people. It’s all connected & lovely to see.”
• Jane Voigt @downthetee, Virginia-based tennis blogger, “Last year Osaka cried and Serena comforted. This year, Coco cried and Osaka comforted. Pass it along, #USOpen.”