After Serena Williams’ win over rival Maria Sharapova in a blockbuster first-round match which caught the attention of everyone in New York on Monday night, another highly-anticipated match-up will take place on Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday. While the Serena vs Maria match was a battle of the legends, this time Naomi Osaka and Cori Gauff will be a battle of the new generation. They will battle in the third round of the US Open.
Osaka and Gauff, two of the hottest topics in town currently, are the game’s future. The Japanese have already established herself as one of the biggest names in the sport with two Major titles and the number one ranking at the age of 21, but Gauff is the new kid on the block after becoming the youngest qualifier at Wimbledon in the open era, and a fourth-round finish was an icing on the cake.
It seems as though Osaka has successfully transited from being a youngster to a seasoned player on tour. Gauff has barely started her professional career and is just 15-years-old, meaning that there are still a bunch of years ahead of her. Her potential is out-of-the-world as she edges closer than ever to a top-100 debut despite playing a meagre number of tournaments, and she will face the biggest test of her career against world number one and defending champion Osaka on the biggest stage in tennis in front of a partisan home crowd.
Osaka in Flushing Meadows so far
It was a major injury scare for the defending champion entering New York as she was forced to retire in the quarterfinals of the Western and Southern Open due to a scary-looking knee injury, which the world number one had described as something “she had never experienced before”. Racing against time, Osaka’s injury concerns were put to rest when she announced that she was doing fine at the draw ceremony a couple of days ahead of the tournament.
Osaka’s title defence went off to a rocky start as she was stuck in a three-set battle against an inspired Anna Blinkova in the first round. Bouncing back from a mid-match disappointment, 44 winners were enough to overpower her solid opponent in a very competitive opener.
Another tough match followed, this time coming against the recently-crowned Bronx Open winner Magda Linette. A low first-serve percentage was costly but Osaka managed to replenish it by making most of her first serves, losing just four points behind them throughout the match. Coming from 0-3 15-40 down in the second set, the Japanese continued to sail through the draw and her dream of defending the title continues.
Gauff in Flushing Meadows so far
Gauff received worldwide media attention at Wimbledon after her historic run to the fourth round but surprisingly fell in the opening round of the Citi Open after surging through the qualifying rounds. Due to the age restrictions laid out by the WTA, Gauff was unable to participate in too many tournaments, but as one of the game’s next big thing, she was handed a wildcard into the main draw of the US Open after being a finalist in the girl’s singles competition in 2017 as a 13-year-old wunderkind.
Gauff was entangled in a tough first-round battle against fellow youngster Anastasia Potapova, who has already established herself on the senior tour. Overcoming the initial nerves on Louis Armstrong Stadium, the home favourite had to battle from a set down to beat the Russian in three tough sets, much to the delight of the home crowd.
Serving much better in the second round, Gauff upped her level of play to match an in-form Timea Babos who was a dangerous former top-30 player. The 15-year-old, whose first serve went as fast as 118 mph, won 83 per cent of her first serves and blasted 32 winners as she booked yet another spot in the third round of a Major.
Match Analysis: Can Osaka handle the pressure?
Gauff comes into every match with basically nothing to lose — she is still in the midst of the first stages of her professional career and gaining experience would be more important than expecting to win. Osaka will be the one coming into this match with a point to prove — being the defending champion and the world number one, who will need to reach the semifinals to have any chances of retaining the ranking. The crowd will certainly not be on her side, and how will Osaka handle these factors?
Gauff plays some world-class counterpunching tennis at the age of 15. She definitely loves playing under the limelight and can handle the pressure well. It would be an incredible feat if she managed to make the second week of a Major for the second consecutive time. However, this time Osaka seems to be a force not to be reckoned with, especially in New York.
The world number one has been improving match by match and looked impressive when she was pushed to the brink. Osaka will look to put up a dominant performance and send a message to the rest of the field, reinforcing her authority as the top seed. She definitely comes into the encounter as the favourite, but Gauff will always have something up her sleeve as the 15-year-old looks to stun the world number one during New York primetime.