Maybe, some years in the future, if Coco Gauff goes on to meet the future that some have predicted for her, her win over Naomi Osaka, 6-4, 6-4, on Thursday evening will function a torch-passing second.
Or perhaps it can simply be Chapter 4 in a rivalry that can stretch for many years. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova performed 80 matches throughout the Seventies and Eighties, 60 occasions in finals. Plenty of tennis followers are hoping for one thing like that from Gauff and Osaka, particularly after Gauff’s nervy win in San Jose, Calif., at the Silicon Valley Classic, considered one of a number of tuneup tournaments for the U.S. Open.
Gauff, who remains to be simply 18 though she looks as if she has been round for a whereas now — as a result of, properly, she has been — surged to the lead, pounding her highly effective serve, particularly as she sealed the ultimate sport of the first set. She appeared 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 damage she suffered in the spring, got here alive. She saved 4 match factors in that sport after which three extra over the subsequent two as she closed the deficit to 5-4 earlier than Gauff lastly put the match away.
“You know certain players, no matter what the score is, it’s going to be tough,” Gauff mentioned afterward. “It’s Naomi. She could have easily threw in the towel, but she didn’t.”
After it was over, Osaka mentioned she had a realization throughout the match that for a lengthy whereas now she has been letting individuals name her “mentally weak.”
“I forgot who I was,” mentioned Osaka, who’s 24 and took a number of months off final yr to deal with her psychological well being. “I feel like the pressure doesn’t beat me. I am the pressure.”
There are loads of skilled tennis tournaments throughout the yr which are eminently skippable for any variety of causes — low stakes, a lack of star energy, not a lot cash on the line. But this yr’s Silicon Valley Classic has punched far above its weight. A stacked draw — high girls may select 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 begin.
Gauff vs. Osaka was a round-of-16 match. Gauff, ranked eleventh, was scheduled to play Friday evening in the quarterfinals in opposition to the fourth-ranked Paula Badosa of Spain, the winner of final yr’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif. It was a matchup Gauff was relishing for a variety of causes.
“Tough players and playing high seeds like this in warm-up tournaments for the U.S. Open is what I ask for,” she mentioned Thursday evening.
Because Gauff remains to be so younger, her each match is each a singular sporting occasion and a part of a bigger course of. She reached her first Grand Slam singles ultimate at the French Open in June, the place she misplaced to the world No. 1, Iga Swiatek of Poland. She fell in the third spherical at Wimbledon in a powerful battle in opposition to Amanda Anisimova, one other younger rising American.
Gauff mentioned Thursday evening that she had realized from the loss to Anisimova that even in opposition to a highly effective baseliner she wanted to stay aggressive and never assume the position of the counterpuncher. She spent the previous three weeks coaching so long as eight hours a day in Florida to prepare for the summer time hardcourt swing in North America. She mentioned she felt the work paying off in opposition to Osaka, considered one of the sport’s best baseliners.
“I was winning the rallies more than she was,” she mentioned of Osaka. “A lot more to go before the U.S. Open, but this is a good start for me.”
At the identical time, there have been a number of moments on Thursday evening when Gauff mentioned she bought a wholesome reminder that she is about extra than simply wins and losses. Gauff and Osaka each repeatedly converse out on social points, together with human rights, gun violence and abortion rights. As they walked onto the courtroom, the gamers noticed a fan holding a signal that confirmed photos of each of them and the phrases “Thanks for being you.”
“Those kinds of messages are really important to us,” Gauff mentioned. “It shows that people are not just supporting us because of our career but because of what we do off the court as well.”
And for what it’s price, Gauff and Osaka are actually all even at two wins apiece.