Coco Gauff wins again, faces Osaka next

Coco Gauff, 15, becomes the youngest tennis titlist in 15 years
Copyright 2019 CNN
Coco Gauff performed well at Wimbledon in 2019, and continues to advance at the 2019 U.S. Open.

Coco Gauff has done it again.

The 15-year-old American has reached the third round of the US Open with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 win over Hungary’s Timea Babos on Thursday in two hours, 22 minutes. Gauff is the youngest woman to reach the last 32 at Flushing Meadows since Anna Kournikova’s run to the round of 16 in 1996.

After the match, fans at Louis Armstrong Stadium, including her parents, chanted “Coco! Coco!”

“It gets me super pumped, and I’m like, wow,” Gauff told ESPN on the court. “I’m really so grateful I’m playing in front of all of you guys. You actually believe in me. This is just the beginning. I promise. And I promise to always fight for you guys.”

Later, in her post-match press conference, she called the chanting for her “wild.”

“I was thinking like maybe they feel like I’m Golden State in Game 7 or something,” she said. “It’s different because you’re an individual player, so it’s weird, I guess. Most of the time you hear the chants, it’s for a whole team, not just for, like, me. So it was pretty cool.”

Next up for Gauff is a massive challenge. She gets world No. 1 and reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka, who defeated Poland’s Magda Linette 6-2, 6-4 earlier in the day. Babos, a 26-year-old qualifier, is ranked 112th.

Osaka and Gauff have known each other for a few years, but Saturday will be their first time playing each other.

“Obviously she’s an amazing player,” Gauff said. “She’s defending champion. She’s won two slams. She’s No. 1. She’s only 21. We’re both pretty young. But I’m a little bit newer to the game. So I’m just curious to see how my game matches up against her. Obviously I want to win. I just want to enjoy it, have fun, enjoy the battle. We’ll see how it goes. But my top priority right now is just doubles.”

Gauff, teaming up with 17-year-old Caty McNally, is scheduled to face Julia Goerges and Katerina Siniakova in the first round Friday. McNally lost to Serena Williams on Wednesday.

“I think that’s actually going to prepare me for Naomi, because doubles to me is more faster paced than singles,” Gauff said. “Naomi actually hits the ball pretty hard. I think it will prepare me well for Saturday’s match.”

Hours before Gauff took the court against Babos, Osaka was asked about potentially playing the young American.

“She’s super sweet and I would love to play her, of course,” the 21-year-old said to reporters. “For me, when I hear people talking about someone, I want to have the opportunity to play them just to assess it for myself. You know what I mean? So, yeah, definitely would love that, but at the same time I know she’s going to have to get through a tough opponent. I’m fine with whoever I play.”

Both of Gauff’s US Open singles matches have gone three sets. In her first-round match on Tuesday, Gauff recovered from a set and a break down to defeat fellow teenager Anastasia Potapova at Louis Armstrong Stadium. She entered the fortnight ranked 140th, a career best.

The youngest player in the draw, Gauff is making her US Open debut as a wild card. She became an overnight sensation in July when she reached the fourth round of Wimbledon, beating the likes of idol Venus Williams in the process.

In her run, she also became the first 15-year-old to reach the last 16 at Wimbledon since Martina Hingis in 1996. Gauff’s Wimbledon came to an end at the hands of eventual champion Simona Halep, who lost earlier Thursday to 23-year-old American Taylor Townsend.

Gauff claimed the women’s doubles title at the Citi Open earlier this month, where she partnered with McNally. In 2018, Gauff and McNally won the US Open girls’ doubles title.

Earlier this week, Osaka approached the 15-year-old and struck up a friendly conversation.

“I have actually been trying to talk to her recently, because I feel she’s a little bit like me, a little bit — well, I saw her in the locker room, and she just had her headphones on,” Osaka said Tuesday. “I was, like, Oh, looks familiar. I just went up and talked a little bit.”

Gauff shared part of that exchange while on ESPN’s set.

“She came up to me and she was like, ‘Congrats on Wimbledon,'” Gauff said. “I was like, ‘Thank you. Congrats on everything you’re doing.’ Also, I was complimenting her headphones. … She’s a nice person.”

As for Osaka, who must defend her title to keep the No. 1 ranking, she says she feels like she’s having fun again.

“I’m not really caring too much about rankings or points,” she said. “And I know that I said that if you win a tournament that automatically makes you No. 1, but I’m not even thinking about winning this tournament right now. Like, I’m thinking about my next match, and I know it’s either going to be Coco or Babos. So I sort of feel free.”