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Osaka overwhelms 15-year-old Gauff at US Open

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By IANS Updated: Sep 01, 2019 10:08 pm
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Coco Gauff wipes away her tears while talking to Naomi Osaka of Japan after Osaka defeated Gauff during the third round of the US Open tennis tournament in New York on August 31. (AP/PTI)

New York, Sep. 1 (IANS): Cori “Coco” Gauff has already proven the Grand Slam spotlight isn’t too bright for a 15-year-old.

After two thrilling wins at the US Open, she has quickly become a crowd favorite with her powerful groundstrokes and an energetic game, Efe news reported.

On Saturday night, Gauff faced her biggest test, a third-round matchup in Arthur Ashe Stadium against defending champion Naomi Osaka, the world’s No.1-ranked player.

“I’m just curious to see how my game matches up against her,” Gauff said ahead of the match at Flushing Meadows here. “Obviously I want to win.”

Although Gauff may very well develop into one of the sport’s best players, she isn’t quite there yet. Osaka, 21, controlled most of the rallies and was stronger physically, in a 6-3, 6-0 win that took one hour and five minutes.

In an error-riddled first set, Osaka raced out to a 3-0 lead, hitting seven winners. Gauff clawed back to take the next two games but continued to struggle to hold her serve. In the eighth game of the match, Osaka broke Gauff’s serve for the third time in the set and then held serve to take the set 6-3.

In the opening game of the second set, Gauff quickly fell behind 0-30 on her serve. After hitting her first serve into the net, Gauff swung her racket in disgust.

The crowd offered encouragement and cheered loudly when Gauff won the next point. But that wasn’t enough as Osaka showed her experience by exploiting her younger opponent’s weakness, breaking Gauff’s serve in that game and two other times in the set to close out the match at love in the second set.

After the match, with Gauff in tears, Osaka asked her to join her on the court for her post-match interview. Gauff thanked Osaka for her support.

Osaka addressed Gauff’s family and friends, saying how remarkable it was that two girls from the same Florida area both have made it to tennis’s grandest stage.

“Coco, I think you are amazing,” she said.

Both players said their fathers are friends, and they recalled a practice session two years ago in Miami, when Gauff was only 13.

“That was super cool. I was able to keep the ball on the court. I was super nervous,” Gauff said.

After winning back-to-back Grand Slam titles, with victories at the US Open last year and the Australian Open in January, Osaka split with her coach Sascha Bajin.

She has struggled with her consistency since the change and entered this tournament with concerns over a knee injury. Osaka will lose the No. 1 ranking if No. 2 Ashleigh Barty reaches the quarterfinals here or if No. 3 Karolina Pliskova reaches the semifinals.

Entering Saturday’s play, eight of Osaka’s 10 losses this year have come against players ranked outside the top 20.

But Osaka has begun to regain her form at Flushing Meadows. She won over fans during last year’s final, when she showed remarkable poise as Serena Williams was feuding with chair umpire Carlos Ramos.

Although she is wearing a brace on her left knee, Osaka hasn’t appeared to be restricted in her movement.

She advances to the fourth round, where she will face No. 13 seed Belinda Bencic.

Gauff was trying to become the youngest player to defeat the world’s No. 1 player since 1991, when then-15-year-old Jennifer Capriati defeated Monica Seles in San Diego.

Coincidentally, Capriati’s early success and subsequent off-the-court struggles led to a rule on the number of matches females can play before they turn 18.

At most, Gauff will be able to play five events before she turns 16 on March 13, although a merit increase is possible. Gauff entered the US Open ranked No. 140, but should be on the edge of the top 100 when the WTA rankings are updated after the tournament.

Gauff earned $163,000 for advancing to the third round.

Despite the loss in singles, her US Open isn’t over yet. Gauff and 17-year-old Caty McNally will take on the No. 9-seeded women’s doubles team of Nicole Melichar and Kveta Peschke on Sunday.

The Osaka-Gauff matchup has been the talk of the tournament around the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in recent days. Even Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam winner who had the evening off, said she was interested in the outcome.

“I definitely think it’s the future of women’s tennis. And I’m really excited to just be a fan girl and kind of watch,” Williams said Friday.

Williams, the No. 8 seed, is slated to face No. 22 seed Petra Martic on Sunday afternoon in a fourth-round match.

Four American women are in the round of 16, including Williams, No. 10 seed Madison Keys, Taylor Townsend and Kristie Ahn.

 

 

6091
By IANS Updated: Sep 01, 2019 10:08:45 pm