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Coco Gauff vs. Naomi Osaka Could Be a Rivalry within the Making


Perhaps, some years in the long run, if Coco Gauff goes on to satisfy the destiny that some have predicted for her, her win over Naomi Osaka, 6-4, 6-4, on Thursday night will function a torch-passing moment.

Or perhaps it can just be Chapter 4 in a rivalry that may stretch for a long time. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova played 80 matches throughout the Nineteen Seventies and Eighties, 60 times in finals. Loads of tennis fans are hoping for something like that from Gauff and Osaka, especially after Gauff’s nervy win in San Jose, Calif., on the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, considered one of several tuneup tournaments for the U.S. Open.

Gauff, who continues to be just 18 regardless that she looks like she has been around for some time now — because, well, she has been — surged to the lead, pounding her powerful serve, especially as she sealed the ultimate game of the primary set. She looked like she would cruise to the victory, constructing a 5-1 second-set lead. Osaka was serving at 0-40.

But then Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion who’s getting back from an Achilles injury she suffered within the spring, got here alive. She saved 4 match points in that game after which three more over the following two as she closed the deficit to 5-4 before Gauff finally put the match away.

“You recognize certain players, regardless of what the rating is, it’s going to be tough,” Gauff said in a post-match news conference. “It’s Naomi. She could have easily threw within the towel, but she didn’t.”

After it was over, Osaka said she had a realization throughout the match that for an extended while now she has been letting people call her “mentally weak.”

“I forgot who I used to be,” said Osaka, who’s 24 and took several months off last 12 months as she struggled with mental health. “I feel just like the pressure doesn’t beat me. I’m the pressure.”

There are many skilled tennis tournaments throughout the 12 months which might be eminently skippable for any variety of reasons — low stakes, an absence of star power, not much money on the road. But this 12 months’s Silicon Valley Classic has punched far above its weight. A stacked draw — top women could decide to play this week in steamy Washington, D.C., or temperate Northern California — has delivered matchups worthy of the later rounds of Grand Slam tournaments from the beginning.

Gauff vs. Osaka was a round-of-16 match. Gauff, ranked eleventh, will play in Friday night’s quarterfinal against the fourth-ranked Paula Badosa of Spain, the winner of last 12 months’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif. It’s a matchup Gauff is relishing for plenty of reasons.

“Tough players and playing high seeds like this in warm-up tournaments for the U.S. Open is what I ask for,” she said Thursday night.

Because Gauff continues to be so young, her every match is each a singular sporting event and part of a bigger process. She reached her first Grand Slam singles final on the French Open in June, where she lost to the world No. 1, Iga Swiatek of Poland. She fell within the third round at Wimbledon in a tricky battle against Amanda Anisimova, one other young rising American.

Gauff said Thursday night that she had learned from the loss to Anisimova that even against a robust baseliner she needed to stay aggressive and never assume the role of the counterpuncher. She spent the past three weeks training so long as eight hours a day in Florida to prepare for the summer hardcourt swing in North America. She said she felt the work paying off against Osaka, considered one of the sport’s biggest baseliners.

“I used to be winning the rallies greater than she was,” she said of Osaka. “Quite a bit more to go before the U.S. Open, but that is an excellent start for me.”

At the identical time, there have been several moments on Thursday night when Gauff said she got a healthy reminder that she is about greater than just wins and losses. Gauff and Osaka each repeatedly speak out on social issues, including human rights, gun violence and abortion rights. As they walked onto the court, the players saw a fan holding an indication that showed pictures of each of them and the words “Thanks for being you.”

“Those sorts of messages are really necessary to us,” Gauff said. “It shows that folks usually are not just supporting us due to our profession but due to what we do off the court as well.”

And for what it’s price, Gauff and Osaka at the moment are all even at two wins apiece.

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