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Naomi Osaka Knocks Coco Gauff Out of the U.S. Open

In a short match long on emotion, Naomi Osaka, the world’s No. 1 player, ended the latest Grand Slam run by the 15-year-old American Coco Gauff in the third round of the United States Open.

Osaka’s 6-3, 6-0 victory on Saturday night, in a sold-out Arthur Ashe Stadium, was no great surprise and certainly no discredit to Gauff, who has captured plenty of imaginations and attention this summer with her talent and fighting spirit.

But for all her precocious power, speed and clear potential, there is still a significant gap in consistency and technical proficiency between Gauff and the best players in the women’s game.

“I think she played amazing,” Gauff said of Osaka. “She had way more winners than I did, and it was hard to take control of the rallies, but I’ll learn a lot from the match. She’s the No. 1 player in the world right now, so I know what I need to do to get to that level.”

Osaka also demonstrated class and care in victory, counseling Gauff and helping her younger opponent work through her disappointment.

“After the match, I think she just proved that she’s a true athlete,” Gauff said. “For me, the definition of an athlete is someone who on the court treats you like they’re your worst enemy, but off the court can be your best friend. I think that’s what she did tonight.”

Gauff has defeated several of her elders, including 39-year-old Venus Williams, but she is 0-2 against top-10 opposition after losing to Simona Halep in the fourth round of Wimbledon and to Osaka on Saturday.

ImageCreditDemetrius Freeman for The New York Times

Osaka broke Gauff’s serve six times and focused her attacks on Gauff’s forehand side, the younger woman’s weaker wing.

“I think the most important thing is Coco wasn’t overwhelmed by the moment; she just played a really good player,” said Martin Blackman, who has tracked Gauff’s rise closely as the general manager of player development for the United States Tennis Association.

Above all, it was a rousing, deeply focused performance by Osaka, the reigning U.S. Open champion who returned ferociously and had 24 winners and 17 unforced errors while again being required to cope with a complex psychological dynamic in Ashe Stadium.

Last year, in her first Grand Slam final, Osaka played brilliantly to defeat Serena Williams, the greatest player of this era, in a match that turned contentious as Williams clashed with the chair umpire Carlos Ramos.

Ramos penalized Williams a point and then a game in the second set. The trophy ceremony was interrupted by boos as the crowd vented its ire at Ramos, leaving Osaka in tears and many others, including Williams, with regrets.

“I felt very badly for Osaka last year,” said Terri Day, a fan from Morristown, N.J., who attended the final and was also in the stands on Saturday night. “There were so many emotions last year and so many negative emotions. It’s nice to see her have a win that she can truly celebrate.”

Williams later said that she sent apologetic text messages to Osaka after last year’s final.

ImageCreditDemetrius Freeman for The New York Times

On Saturday, Osaka, who represents Japan but lives in Florida, again had to play the equivalent of a road game with the majority of the fans behind Gauff, who has become a crowd darling wherever she plays.

There were still tears in the aftermath this time, but they were of a much different provenance.

Though the first set was closely contested, Osaka took command of the match for good early in the second set. Gauff, normally poised beyond her years, began to express frustration as the double faults (7) and unforced errors (24) piled up in the face of Osaka’s pressure and power.

“She was nervous and she over-hit,” said Corey Gauff, her father and longtime coach. “You feel like she’s hitting hard, and you try to hit even harder.”

Gauff pointed to the strings of her racket, yelling “Stop” at one point, in the direction of her parents and team.

ImageCreditDemetrius Freeman for The New York Times

Osaka would win 28 points to Gauff’s 12 in the second set, holding at love to close out the match. When it was over, Osaka started a conversation after the handshake and embrace at the net. She persuaded Gauff to remain on court for the post-match television interview instead of heading to the locker room immediately.

“I’m going to, like, cry,” Gauff said.

Osaka responded: “I think it’s better than going into the shower and crying.”

Osaka later teared up herself as she answered questions on court from ESPN’s Mary Joe Fernandez.

“I was crying. Everybody was crying,” Gauff said. “I was like, I don’t know why she’s crying. I was like, ‘You won the match.’ But I think it was a good moment for both of us.”

Osaka, 21, who has trained at the same academy in Delray Beach as Gauff, explained.

“I wanted her to have her head high, not walk off the court sad,” Osaka said. “I want her to be aware that she’s accomplished so much, and she’s still so young.”

Osaka continued, speaking to the news media: “I know that you guys are kind of coming at her with love, too, but I feel like the amount of media on her right now is kind of insane for her age. I just want her to, like, take care of herself.”

Osaka has struggled to hit the same high notes in recent months after surprisingly splitting with her coach Sascha Bajin in January after winning the Australian Open.

She has yet to reach another final since that victory. But with a new coach, Jermaine Jenkins, in her corner, she is back in the fourth round at Flushing Meadows.

She will face a tough challenge on Monday in the 13th-seeded Belinda Bencic, who has beaten Osaka twice this year. A former prodigy herself, Bencic, 22, broke into the top 10 as a teenager before wrist surgery in 2017 stopped her progress.

But Bencic is back in earnest now. She is one of the game’s best counterpunchers and is at her most dangerous on hardcourts. She advanced to the fourth round by walkover on Saturday after Anett Kontaveit, her would-be opponent, withdrew before the match because of a viral illness.

Gauff, born and raised in Delray Beach, Fla., was the youngest player to reach the third round of the U.S. Open in singles since Anna Kournikova in 1996.

ImageCreditDemetrius Freeman for The New York Times

Though this was only Gauff’s fourth tour-level event, she has fast become a crowd darling and even received a high-five from a U.S. Open security guard after coming through the metal detector as she arrived on site on Saturday.

Cocomania began at Wimbledon in July when she became the youngest qualifier there in the Open era. In her Grand Slam singles debut, she then upset Venus Williams, a former No. 1 and five-time Wimbledon champion, in the first round. She went on to save two match points and win her third-round duel with Polona Hercog in her first appearance on Centre Court. She then lost to Halep, who went on to take the title.

In 2018, Gauff lost in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open junior tournament and in the second round of the mixed doubles event.

One year later, she walked out, headphones and game face in place, to kick off the night session on Labor Day weekend and play her first match in Ashe Stadium.

“It was an emotional moment for me,” Corey Gauff said. “I looked down and that was my little girl going out on the court. So much pressure. Even though there shouldn’t be pressure, you see all those people and you want to do well.”

It has been quite a change and quite a rise in quite a hurry, and Coco Gauff will be ranked just outside the top 100 after this tournament.

But as her parents and many in the tennis community have acknowledged, it is important for her not to get too far ahead of herself.

“She’s got a lot of time,” Corey Gauff said. “I’m not worried.”

David Waldstein contributed reporting.

More U.S. Open CoverageTaylor Townsend Keeps Going to the Net, and Keeps Going at the U.S. OpenAug. 31, 2019Look Closely for Coco Gauff’s Homage to New York TennisAug. 31, 2019Coco Gauff’s Got Game and Her Game’s Got Room to GrowAug. 31, 2019


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