No. 1 seed Naomi Osaka has not exactly rolled over her opponents in the early rounds of the U.S. Open but she played well enough to reach the third round where she will be tested by 15-year phenom Coco Gauff.
Osaka, 21, the first Asian American woman to be ranked No. 1 in tennis, is back where she first earned her top spot last year by defeating Serena Williams in the finals.
Osaka had to take three sets to defeat Anna Blinkova in a hard-fought first round Tuesday (Aug. 27) but had an easier time gainst Magda Linette in the second round before defeating her 6-2, 6-4.
In the third round, Osaka will face current sensation Gauff. who overcame World No.112 Timea Babos after two hours and 21 minutes of play, becoming the youngest woman to reach the last 32
The match on Saturday is being billed as the start of what could be long rivalry between the two young players.
Osaka, who plays for Japan even though she lives and trains in the US, will have to overcome the partisan crowd who will likely favor the young American who will come in as the underdog.
The partisan Louis Armstrong Stadium crowd chanted and cheered for the teenager during and after the match. “Being American, playing in New York is amazing,” said Gauff in a live TV interview after the match. “I knew obviously I was going to be the favorite, especially after Wimbledon, but also being American. [But] I didn’t think it was going to be like that.”
The soft-spoken Osaka won’t be without her own following. On Thursday, Kobe Bryant and Colin Kaepernick were cheering her on. “I don’t know; it’s just funny to me. You know, last year compared to this year there is no way, like, Kobe would sit in my box,” giggled Osaka,
Gauff is already the youngest player to reach the third round of the US Open since Anna Kournikova in 1996, nearly eight years before Gauff was born.
Osaka, who was born in Japan, temporarily lost her No. 1 ranking after being eliminated in the early rounds of the French Open and at Wimbledon.
Osaka, who appears more relaxed since her emotional press conference after her Wimbledon loss, is looking forward to the first match with Gauff. Gauff talked about how nice Osaka had been to her when they met at the Miami Open when she was 13.
“Obviously (Osaka is) an amazing player,” said Gauff, who is composed beyond her years. “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.”
“She’s super sweet — I would love to play her,’’ Osaka said of Gault. She’ll get her wish Saturday.
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