It doesn’t get any bigger than this.
Coco Gauff, all of 15 years old, is playing a Saturday night match on Arthur Ashe Stadium against reigning U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka. Is there any doubt that all eyes will be upon them?
“I definitely think it’s the future of women’s tennis,” said 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams. “And I’m really excited to just be a fan girl and kind of watch.”
It seems everyone wants to watch Gauff, who became a fan favorite when she made it to the round of 16 at Wimbledon.
Gauff advanced to the third round after winning a three-set thriller over Hungary’s Timea Babos in the second round Thursday. When she takes on No. 1 seeded Osaka, she will become the youngest player to play in a third round at the U.S. Open since Russia’s Anna Kournikova did it in 1996.
Friday, fans packed the stands around Court 5 where Gauff and partner Caty McNally won a first-round doubles match over Germany’s Julia Goerges and Czech Katerina Siniakova. Fans who couldn’t get in settled for partial views by taking seats in adjacent courts and some even lined a stairway of a nearby restaurant in the hope of getting a glimpse of the young phenom.
“Both of us were really feeding on the crowd,” Gauff said.
Gauff added that playing doubles on Friday was a good way to prepare for her big match against the 21-year-old Osaka
“I think it helped me a lot to practice several serves,” she said. “You have to hit a lot of different shots in doubles. I think it will come in handy tomorrow.”
Though some tennis observers have worried about putting so much pressure on a young player, it’s clear that fans are responding. ESPN announced Friday that viewership through Thursday’s matches, dominated by storylines in the women’s draw, is up 26 percent from last year.
Williams understands the support for the young American, who burst into the public’s consciousness when she defeated her sister Venus in the first round of Wimbledon.
“She’s just incredibly talented. Anyone that’s 15 playing like that, people are going to be drawn to them,” Williams said. “I think that’s pretty awesome. I think she’s really pretty cool. I love her excitement on the court. I’m a big fan of hers.”