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Coco Gauff vs. Naomi Osaka could be a budding rivalry – news primer

Perhaps, years from now, if Coco Gauff continues to fulfill the destiny some have predicted for her, her win over Naomi Osaka, 6-4, 6-4, on Thursday night will serve as a moment to pass the torch.

Or maybe it’s just Chapter 4 in a rivalry that will span decades. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova played 80 matches during the 1970s and 1980s, 60 times in finals. Many tennis fans expect something like this from Gauff and Osaka, especially after Gauff’s nervous win in San Jose, California at the Silicon Valley Classic, one of several US Open warm-up tournaments.

Gauff, who is still only 18 years old even though it seems like he has been around for a while, because, well, he has been, took the lead, hitting his powerful serve, especially as he sealed the final game of the first set. . He looked like he would cruise to victory, building a 5-1 lead in the second set. Osaka was serving at 0-40.

But then Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion returning from an Achilles tendon injury she suffered in the spring, came to life. She saved four match points in that game and then three more in the next two as she closed the deficit to 5-4 before Gauff finally ended the match.

“You know certain players, no matter what the score is, it’s going to be tough,” Gauff said afterwards. “It’s Naomi. He could have easily thrown in the towel, but he didn’t.”

After it ended, Osaka said that she realized during the match that she has been letting people call her “mentally weak” for a long time.

“I forgot who I was,” said Osaka, who is 24 and took several months off last year to treat her mental health. “I feel like the pressure doesn’t beat me. I’m under pressure”.

There are many pro tennis tournaments throughout the year that are eminently skippable for various reasons: low stakes, lack of star power, not much money at stake. But this year’s Silicon Valley Classic has far exceeded its weight. A stacked draw (the top women could choose to play this week in hot Washington, DC, or balmy Northern California) has provided matchups worthy of the latter rounds of Grand Slam tournaments from the start.

Gauff vs Osaka was a Round of 16 match. Gauff, ranked 11th, was scheduled to play Friday night in the quarterfinals against fourth-seeded Paula Badosa of Spain, winner of last year’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California. It was a matchup that Gauff was enjoying for a number of reasons.

“Tough players and playing top seeds like this in US Open prep tournaments is what I ask for,” she said Thursday night.

Because Gauff is still so young, each game of his is as much a singular sporting event as it is part of a larger process. He reached his first Grand Slam singles final at the French Open in June, where he lost to No. 1 Iga Swiatek of Poland. She fell in the third round at Wimbledon in a tough battle against Amanda Anisimova, another rising young American.

Gauff said Thursday night that she had learned from the loss to Anisimova that, even against a powerful baseline, she needed to stay aggressive and not take on the role of counter-puncher. She spent the last three weeks training up to eight hours a day in Florida to prepare for the North American hard-court summer swing. She said that she felt the work paid off against Osaka, one of the best base lines in the game.

“I was winning the rallies more than her,” he said of Osaka. “There’s a lot more to go before the US Open, but this is a good start for me.”

At the same time, there were several moments Thursday night when Gauff said he got a healthy reminder that it’s about more than wins and losses. Gauff and Osaka speak regularly on social issues, including human rights, gun violence, and abortion rights. As they walked onto the court, the players saw a fan holding a banner displaying photos of the two of them and the words “Thank you for being you.”

“Those kinds of messages are really important to us,” Gauff said. “This shows that people not only support us for our career, but also for what we do off the pitch.”

And for what it’s worth, Gauff and Osaka are now tied at two wins apiece.

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