Cocomania is taking further hold of the US Open as it steers into Labor Day weekend – and there is no telling how bright the fireworks will get. American sensation Coco Gauff made it through a stiff test from Hungary’s Tímea Babos to win 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 on Thursday night before a rollicking crowd at Louis Armstrong Stadium that hung on every point.
In doing so, she became the youngest player to make it past the second round at Flushing Meadows since Anna Kournikova in 1996 – and set the stage for her biggest challenge yet. The 15-year-old ingenue from Florida moved through into a Saturday showdown against world No 1 and defending US Open champion Naomi Osaka, a third-round blockbuster that will almost positively be staged under the lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“This is just the beginning, I promise,” Gauff said afterwards to the still-buzzing audience. And following a second straight exhibition of heat-seeking serves, exquisite shotmaking and veteran mettle belying her inexperience, who would doubt her?
Gauff, a former junior No 1 whose grown-up ranking has soared 544 spots to 140th in the span of seven dizzying months, sprang from the gate far better than in Tuesday’s first-round win over Anastasia Potapova, breaking Babos three times in the opening set and pinning her back with a booming first serve that clocked as high as 118mph, a faster top speed than all but four women at this year’s tournament.
Naomi Osaka showed that she is not going to relinquish her US Open title easily. The world number one outclassed Coco Gauff 6-3 6-0 to reach the fourth round in just 65 minutes.
“I was just happy throughout this entire match. I think I kept a very high level of focus,” said Osaka afterwards. “I honestly think it’s been since the Australian Open finals that I was that focused and I was fighting that hard for every point.”
Across the grounds of the Billie Jean King Tennis Center on Saturday afternoon, even as Rafael Nadal competed and US men’s number one John Isner fell, anticipation of the duel between Gauff and Osaka dominated conversation. Last year, Osaka defeated Serena Williams in the US Open final to rise as a new superstar of the sport. At Wimbledon this year, Gauff became one of the most talked about athletes in the world after her delirious run to the fourth round. It was always going to be a moment, as the two new stars faced each other on the biggest stage.
“I’m just curious to see how my game matches up against her,” said Gauff, simply, before the match. She was not the only one. The teenager outplayed Venus Williams in the first round of Wimbledon, and then she survived two three-set slugfests to reach the third round at the US Open, but she had never faced the world number one.
On Saturday, the 15-year-old tennis star defeated Andrea Petkovic 6-4, 6-4 at the Linz Open in Austria to move on to the final round of the tournament. Her victory makes her the youngest tennis player in 15 years to make it to a WTA final, according to CNN. Nicole Vaidisova previously held the record in 2004.
“This is definitely unreal, my first final on the WTA,” Gauff said after her win, according to Agence France-Presse. “Linz is my special place.”
“I’ve had a lot of luck and happiness here,” she added.
Gauff originally wasn’t in the main draw of the tournament, but snuck in as a “lucky loser” after another player pulled out due to an injury, CNN reported.
During the first round, she defeated Stefanie Voegele, and made it to the quarterfinals after her next opponent Kateryna Kozlova retired with a leg injury. The athlete then beat top-seed Kiki Bertens on Friday to make it to the semifinals.
This is Gauff’s first WTA tournament since she lost to Naomi Osaka in an emotional match at the U.S. Open in August.
After the match, Osaka, 21, invited Gauff to join her winner’s interview, in a moment that left both tennis players in tears.
“I wanted to leave the court because I lost,” Gauff said of the moment during a September interview on Today. She continued, “And she was like ‘No, come with me’ and I was just shocked because no one ever does that.”
“I couldn’t thank her enough and I was really shocked,” the athlete added. “It was an emotional moment — good and bad emotions.”