New York | Coco lines up Osaka next
Coco mania continues at the US Open as 15-year old Cori Gauff had the home crowd behind her at Louis Armstrong Stadium during a 6-2 4-6 6-4 win over Timea Babos of Hungary on Thursday night.
I thought that the first set, I definitely was in control, In the second set, she raised her level and I wasn’t able to finish the set. But she played amazing. I thought I played well, too. It was a great match. Cori Gauff
“For me it’s still wild. This is the first time — well, not the first time. The first round was the first time I actually had a chant, but today it was a lot louder and a little more consistent,” Gauff said in regard to the supportive, if at times, raucous crowd.
Her run to the Wimbledon 4th round was no accident, but a show of future promise and potential.
The young lady from Delray Beach is now the youngest player to reach the US Open’s 3rd round since 1996, when Anna Kournikova did it.
“Being American, playing in New York is amazing,” Gauff said. “I knew obviously I was going to be the favourite, especially after Wimbledon, but being American.
“I didn’t think it was going to be like that. I hope that I inspire a lot of people.
“I was thinking like maybe they feel like I’m Golden State in Game 7 or something. 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.
“I was tested a lot. I think we were both just testing each other,” Gauff added. “If I didn’t win that last point, maybe she would have won the match.”
With Serena Williams and Venus Williams entering the final stages of their stunning careers, America has been searching for a new star who might be capable of filling their shoes.
In Coco Gauff, perhaps they have found one.
She moves like Venus and has the intensity of Serena, a good combination in any young player, but especially in an African-American player, who is destined to be compared to the Williams sisters at every turn.
The great thing about Gauff is that she seems to be ready and able to deal with everything that comes her way.
On Thursday, she outlasted an experienced campaigner in Babos in 2 hours, 22 minutes of baseline slugging to reach the 3rd round at Flushing Meadows on her debut in the event.
The contest started with a nervy split of the first 4 games, as Gauff, 15, and Babos, 26, felt each other out in their first career meeting with the evening crowd filing into Armstrong.
Once Gauff broke to open up a 4-2 lead, it seemed the Hungarian was playing three-on-one, fighting herself in addition to the youngster and the partisan American crowd.
Gauff backed up her mid-set break by firing 2 aces and an unreturned serve to extend the lead to 5-2, then sealed the set with her 3rd break.
Babos refocused and hit top gear midway through set two.
In between a pair of authoritative Gauff service games to start set 2, Babos saved 2 break points after the teen tracked down a drop shot in one of the points of the match.
The Hungarian escaped a long rally at 30-40 when Gauff missed a backhand into the net, and after an ace capped a run of 4 points in a row to hold for 1-all, she let out a roar for the first time on the evening.
It was the Babos’ turn to threaten at 3-all, and almost out of nowhere, she wrestled away control of the set with her first break since the opening game of the match.
She stayed on top for the rest of the stanza, dropping just 2 points in her next two service games to force a deciding third set.
It was an inspired turnaround from Babos, who gained a foothold in the longer rallies and hurt Gauff with variety that comes with a game that has taken her as high as No 25 in the world in singles in 2016 and the top spot in doubles in 2018.
Babos’ momentum carried over to set 3, despite Gauff briefly leaving the court in between sets.
She faced a 15-40 hole in the opening game, but managed to right herself with a backhand winner and 2 unreturned serves to get on the board.
The final set went on serve until Gauff won the final game of the match, converting on her 3rd break point of the set after she saved 4 break points on her own serve.
“I thought that the first set, I definitely was in control,” said Gauff. “In the second set, she raised her level and I wasn’t able to finish the set.
“But she played amazing. I thought I played well, too. It was a great match.”
Next up for Gauff will be a meeting with World No 1 Naomi Osaka, who beat Magda Linette in straight sets earlier in the day.
The atmosphere in Armstrong was deafening at times, including during Gauff’s post-match interview.
When Gauff was asked by ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi for her thoughts on the upcoming battle with Osaka, the mention of the World No 1 and defending champion was roundly booed by fans.
Gauff had a slightly sheepish look on her face before replying: “I don’t have any thoughts on it now, because I have to play doubles tomorrow with Caty [McNally].
“So I am really focused on that. I don’t even know what today is? What is today?”
When Gauff was told she will play Osaka on Saturday, most likely on Arthur Ashe, she said: “Saturday I am going to think about that match.
“But tomorrow is about my doubles match.”
As for Osaka, she sees something of herself in Gauff.
“Off the court she seems like me,” said Osaka of Gauff. “Well, she seems a little bit more, like, she knows what she’s doing,” she said with a smile. “I just mean, like, I’m very quiet. I’ve gotten actually a bit talkative recently, though.
“But, yeah, I saw her in the locker room. She wasn’t really talking to anyone. I was, like, Oh, looks familiar. I’m just going to talk to her. I know she’s super young, and I know it’s sort of hard to transition.
“I wasn’t even a junior, but I can only imagine as a junior you play these tournaments with your friends, and then you come to the pros and you don’t know anyone.
“I just, like, Oh, she’s a really talented girl. I would love for her to come out of her shell a little bit. I just realise that’s probably what people say about me, too.
“For me, when I hear people talking about someone, I want to have the opportunity to play them just to assess it for myself.”
With her stunning speed around the court, defensive qualities and a swagger on the court that belies her young age, Gauff seems cut out for the top, a target she has already made clear.
And Osaka’s achievements, winning the title in New York last summer and then picking up the Australian Open title a few months later, have shown the younger girls coming up that anything can be done.
“I think she just made it possible,” Gauff said. “Last year, US Open, she wasn’t really like a big contender.
“Obviously now this year she is. She had that amazing run, then the final. Honestly, I think she’s a big inspiration for everyone. She’s 21. She has two slams. She’s still [striving] for more.
“I think she’s just a super sweet person on and off the court. She competes great out there. I think she shows us how to compete and the way to, like, be off the court, too.”
Osaka seems back to herself, on and off the court, after a tough few months when she found coping with her new found stardom, not to mention the No 1 ranking, much harder than she expected.
The Japanese posted a letter on social media just before the start of the north American hard-court tournaments, explaining what she’s been through in recent weeks and months.
Writing that, she said, had been an important and cathartic experience.
“It really helped me relax my mind, because it sort of, in a sort of selfish way, it made me able to make clear to everyone where I was headspace-wise,” she said.
“I think the biggest thing was I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect. I think that sort of makes other people expect a lot from me, too.
“So I just wanted to clear the air in that way. I’m not really thinking too much anymore.
“I feel like I’m having fun again. I’m not really caring too much about rankings or points. I’m not even thinking about winning this tournament right now. I’m thinking about my next match. I sort of feel free.”
Gauff said she can’t wait to test herself against Osaka.
“Obviously she’s an amazing player,” she 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 [but] I just want to enjoy it, have fun, enjoy the battle. We’ll see how it goes.”
Elsewhere, Caroline Wozniacki, the Danish No 19 seed, rebounded from a first set loss to stop Danielle Collins 4-6 6-3 6-4 to reach the third round.
“She got off to a good start,” Wozniacki said. “She plays very aggressive. I knew that was how the match was going to go. I just had to be ready for it.
“Again, in the second set, I stepped in a little bit more, I started changing up my serves a little bit more. Yeah, I think that was what made the difference.”
The former US Open finalist will play the talented and much-hailed Canadian, Bianca Andreescu next, seeded 15, who dispatched Kirsten Flipkens from Belgium, 6-3 7-5.
“I remember not really knowing who she was,” Wozniacki admitted. “I remember I thought I played pretty well in that match.
“She still beat me. It was the first tournament of the year, so I was kind of unsure whether I was really hitting my level or whether she was playing that well. Obviously she was playing very well.
“She’s had a great year. Has won some big tournaments. She’s definitely coming in here with some confidence. It’s important for me that I’m just going to go out there and take my chances.”