Coco Gauff vs. Naomi Osaka can compete

Maybe in a few years, if Coco Gauff continues to fulfill the destiny that some have predicted for her, her 6-4, 6-4 win over Naomi Osaka on Thursday night will serve as a momentous moment.

Or maybe it will just be Chapter 4 in a rivalry that will span decades. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova played 80 matches in the 1970s and 1980s, 60 times in finals. Many tennis fans are hoping for something similar from Gauf and Osaka, especially after Gauf’s nervous win in San Jose, California at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, one of several US Open setup tournaments.

Gauff, who is still only 18 years old, although it looks like she’s been here for a while – because, well, she was – pulled ahead, hitting her powerful serve, especially when she closed the final game of the first set. . She looked like she was racing to victory, building a 5-1 second lead. Osaka served with a score of 0-40.

But then came Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion who is recovering from an Achilles injury in the spring. She saved four match points in that game and then three more in the next two, closing the gap to 5-4 before Gauff finally called off the match.

“You know some players, no matter what the score is, it’s going to be tough,” Gauff said at the post-match press conference. “This is Naomi. She could easily have given up, but she didn’t.”

After it was all over, Osaka said that during the match, the realization came to her that she had been allowing people to call her “mentally weak” for a long time.

“I forgot who I was,” said Osaka, who is 24 and took a few months off last year. how she dealt with mental health. “I feel like the pressure is not getting the better of me. I am pressure.

There are many professional tennis tournaments throughout the year, which can be missed for a variety of reasons – low stakes, lack of stars, little money at stake. But this year Silicon Valley Classic has exceeded all expectations. Numerous draws – the top women could choose whether to play this week in sweltering Washington, DC or temperate Northern California – ensured matchups worthy of the later rounds of Grand Slam tournaments from the start.

Gauf vs. Osaka was the round of 16 match. 11th-placed Gauff will play in the quarter-finals on Friday night against fourth-placed Paula Badosa of Spain, winner of last year’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California. Gauff enjoys this matchup for a number of reasons.

“Strong players and such high seedings in the US Open warm-up tournaments is what I’m asking for,” she said Thursday night.

Because Gauff is still so young, each of her matches is both a separate sporting event and part of a larger process. She reached her first Grand Slam singles final at the French Open in June, where she lost to world no. one, Iga Swiatek from Poland. She fell in the third round of Wimbledon in a close fight with Amanda Anisimova, another young American rising.

Gauff said Thursday night that she learned from losing Anisimova that even against a strong base defender, she needed to stay aggressive and not take on the role of a counter-puncher. For the past three weeks, she’s been training eight hours a day in Florida to prepare for a summer court run in North America. She said she felt the work was paying off against Osaka, one of the best players in the game.

“I won more rallies than she did,” she said of Osaka. “There is still a lot to do before the US Open, but this is a good start for me.”

At the same time, there were several moments on Thursday night when Gauff said she received a helpful reminder that she is more than just wins and losses. Gauff and Osaka speak out regularly on social issues, including human rights, gun violence, and the right to abortion. When they entered the court, the players saw a fan with a sign with their photos and the words “Thank you for being you.”

“These kinds of messages are really important to us,” Gauff said. “It shows that people support us not only because of our career, but also because of what we do off the court.”

And for what it’s worth, Gauff and Osaka now have two wins each.