The immediate and near future of tennis have a date in the third round of the U.S. Open on Saturday.
Naomi Osaka, at 21 the reigning U.S. Open champion, did her part by beating Magda Linette, 6-2, 6-4 on Thursday at Armstrong Stadium
Coco Gauff, at 15 the reigning rage of the women’s game, opened the night there on Armstrong with a dramatic 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 win over Timea Babos.
Osaka cruised against Linette, seldom tested. Gauff was bruised in her battle against Babos, but again demonstrated determination and skill under pressure as the crowd chanted her name.
“I had to dig deep today and two days ago,” Gauff saud. “I had to run a lot today, fell a couple of times, but I’m glad I came through in the end. It’s been amazing. Timea played so good. I was just hoping to get through it. It was amazing.”
Gauff fought an uneven serve and a balky forehand. Babos, after a poor first set, steadied herself, got her big serve working and reduced her groundstroke errors. It wasn’t the prettiest of matches, but with Gauff fighting for every point and the crowd fighting for her, she steadied herself late in the third set.
She failed to convert two break points in the eighth game, but when the 10th game came around with Babos serving, she produced a drop shot that set up a break point, and Babos’ forehand error gave her the match as her parents, Corey and Candi, danced in the player’s box.
Osaka had some firepower in her player’s box at Armstrong Stadium in the persons of NBA great Kobe Bryant and NFL quarterback-in-limbo Colin Kaepernick.
“I know Kobe; this is actually the first time I have ever met Colin,” Osaka said. “Everybody knows Kobe gives me real-life advice. He's someone I look up to as an athlete and also as a person. I'm really grateful that I even have the opportunity to, like, talk to him and stuff.”
Osaka seemed to relish the chance to play Gauff, perhaps even strike up a friendship.
“Off the court she seems like me. Well, she seems a little bit more, like, she knows what she's doing,” I just mean, like, I'm very quiet. I've gotten actually a bit talkative recently, though. But, yeah, I saw her in the locker room. She wasn't really talking to anyone. I was, like, Oh, looks familiar. I'm just going to talk to her. I know she's super young, and I know it's sort of hard to transition.
“I wasn't even a junior, but I can only imagine as a junior you play these tournaments with your friends, and then you come to the pros and you don't know anyone. I would love for her to come out of her shell a little bit. I just realize that's probably what people say about me, too.”
As for at the matchup with Osaka, Gauff was noncommittal. “I don’t have any thoughts about that now because I have to play doubles tomorrow,” she said with a laugh. “When Saturday comes I’ll think about it then.”