Coco Gauff vs. Naomi Osaka Could Be a Rivalry in the Making

Perhaps, some years sooner or later, if Coco Gauff goes on to meet the future that some have predicted for her, her win over Naomi Osaka, 6-4, 6-4, on Thursday evening will function a torch-passing second.

Or possibly it would simply be Chapter 4 in a rivalry that can stretch for many years. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova performed 80 matches in the course of the Seventies and Eighties, 60 occasions in finals. Loads of tennis followers are hoping for one thing like that from Gauff and Osaka, particularly after Gauff’s nervy win in San Jose, Calif., on the Silicon Valley Traditional, considered one of a number of tuneup tournaments for the U.S. Open.

Gauff, who remains to be simply 18 regardless that she looks as if she has been round for some time now — as a result of, nicely, she has been — surged to the lead, pounding her highly effective serve, particularly as she sealed the ultimate sport of the primary set. She appeared like she would cruise to the victory, constructing a 5-1 second-set lead. Osaka was serving at 0-40.

However then Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion who’s getting back from an Achilles damage she suffered within the spring, got here alive. She saved 4 match factors in that sport after which three extra over the subsequent two as she closed the deficit to 5-4 earlier than Gauff lastly put the match away.

“You recognize sure gamers, it doesn’t matter what the rating is, it’s going to be robust,” Gauff mentioned afterward. “It’s Naomi. She might have simply threw within the towel, however she didn’t.”

After it was over, Osaka mentioned she had a realization in the course of the match that for a protracted whereas now she has been letting individuals name her “mentally weak.”

“I forgot who I used to be,” mentioned Osaka, who’s 24 and took a number of months off final yr to handle her psychological well being. “I really feel just like the stress doesn’t beat me. I’m the stress.”

There are many skilled tennis tournaments in the course of the yr which might be eminently skippable for any variety of causes — low stakes, an absence of star energy, not a lot cash on the road. However this yr’s Silicon Valley Traditional has punched far above its weight. A stacked draw — high ladies might select to play this week in steamy Washington, D.C., or temperate Northern California — has delivered matchups worthy of the later rounds of Grand Slam tournaments from the beginning.

Gauff vs. Osaka was a round-of-16 match. Gauff, ranked eleventh, was scheduled to play Friday evening within the quarterfinals towards the fourth-ranked Paula Badosa of Spain, the winner of final yr’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif. It was a matchup Gauff was relishing for a lot of causes.

“Powerful gamers and enjoying excessive seeds like this in warm-up tournaments for the U.S. Open is what I ask for,” she mentioned Thursday evening.

As a result of Gauff remains to be so younger, her each match is each a singular sporting occasion and half of a bigger course of. She reached her first Grand Slam singles last on the French Open in June, the place she misplaced to the world No. 1, Iga Swiatek of Poland. She fell within the third spherical at Wimbledon in a troublesome battle towards Amanda Anisimova, one other younger rising American.

Gauff mentioned Thursday evening that she had discovered from the loss to Anisimova that even towards a strong baseliner she wanted to stay aggressive and never assume the position of the counterpuncher. She spent the previous three weeks coaching so long as eight hours a day in Florida to prepare for the summer time hardcourt swing in North America. She mentioned she felt the work paying off towards Osaka, one of many sport’s best baseliners.

“I used to be profitable the rallies greater than she was,” she mentioned of Osaka. “Much more to go earlier than the U.S. Open, however this can be a good begin for me.”

On the identical time, there have been a number of moments on Thursday evening when Gauff mentioned she received a wholesome reminder that she is about extra than simply wins and losses. Gauff and Osaka each recurrently communicate out on social points, together with human rights, gun violence and abortion rights. As they walked onto the court docket, the gamers noticed a fan holding an indication that confirmed photos of each of them and the phrases “Thanks for being you.”

“These sorts of messages are actually necessary to us,” Gauff mentioned. “It reveals that persons are not simply supporting us due to our profession however due to what we do off the court docket as nicely.”

And for what it’s price, Gauff and Osaka are actually all even at two wins apiece.

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