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

Maybe, some years in the future, if Coco Gauff goes on to satisfy 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’s going to simply be Chapter 4 in a rivalry that may stretch for many years. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova performed 80 matches throughout the Seventies and Nineteen Eighties, 60 instances in finals. Plenty of tennis followers are hoping for one thing like that from Gauff and Osaka, particularly after Gauff’s nervy win in San Jose, Calif., at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, one in all a number of tuneup tournaments for the US Open.

Gauff, who remains to be simply 18 although she looks as if she has been round for a whereas now — as a result of, properly, she has been — surged to the lead, pounding her highly effective serve, particularly as she sealed the last recreation of the first set . She regarded like she would cruise to the victory, constructing a 5-1 second-set lead. Osaka was serving at 0-40.

But then Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion who’s getting back from an Achilles damage she suffered in the spring, got here alive. She saved 4 match factors in that recreation 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 know sure gamers, it doesn’t matter what the rating is, it should be robust,” Gauff mentioned in a post-match information convention. “It’s Naomi. She might have simply thrown in the towel, however she did not.”

After it was over, Osaka mentioned she had a realization throughout the match that for a lengthy whereas now she has been letting folks 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 as she struggled with psychological well being. “I really feel like the stress does not beat me. I’m the stress.”

There are loads of skilled tennis tournaments throughout the yr which are eminently skippable for any variety of causes — low stakes, a lack of star energy, not a lot cash on the line. But this yr’s Silicon Valley Classic has punched far above its weight. A stacked draw — high girls might select to play this week in steamy Washington, DC, or temperate Northern California — has delivered matchups worthy of the later rounds of Grand Slam tournaments from the begin.

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

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

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

Gauff mentioned Thursday evening that she had realized from the loss to Anisimova that even towards a highly effective baseliner she wanted to stay aggressive and never assume the function of the counterpuncher. She spent the previous three weeks coaching so long as eight hours a day in Florida to prepare for the summer season hardcourt swing in North America. She mentioned she felt the work paying off towards Osaka, one in all the recreation’s biggest baseliners.

“I used to be successful the rallies greater than she was,” she mentioned of Osaka. “Much more to go earlier than the US Open, however that is a good begin for me.”

At the identical time, there have been a number of moments on Thursday evening when Gauff mentioned she obtained a wholesome reminder that she is about extra than simply wins and losses. Gauff and Osaka each commonly 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 a signal that confirmed photos of each of them and the phrases “Thanks for being you.”

“Those sorts of messages are actually vital 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 properly.”

And for what it is value, Gauff and Osaka at the moment are all even at two wins a piece.

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