US Open 2019

Gauff soaks in fan adulation

Cori Gauff, backed by a raucous crowd at the Louis Armstrong Stadium, hitting a return to Timea Babos during their third-round match. The 15-year-old will next face Naomi Osaka.
Cori Gauff, backed by a raucous crowd at the Louis Armstrong Stadium, hitting a return to Timea Babos during their third-round match. The 15-year-old will next face Naomi Osaka. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

American teen sets up clash with defending champ Osaka, after beating Hungary's Babos

NEW YORK • Cori Gauff is still not quite used to hearing her name shouted by thousands of US Open spectators revelling in each booming serve, each "How did she do that?" shot and each victory by a 15-year-old American who is the youngest woman in the US Open's third round since 1996.

Imagine what things might be like for what comes next: a showdown against No. 1 seed and defending champion Naomi Osaka today.

Proving her captivating run to the second week of Wimbledon was no fluke, Gauff improved to 5-1 in her nascent, two-tournament Grand Slam career by edging out Timea Babos of Hungary 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 at a rollicking Louis Armstrong Stadium on Thursday night.

"This is just the beginning, I promise," Gauff told the crowd that serenaded her with "Let's go, Coco!" at the final changeover.

When play resumed, Gauff broke Babos' serve to end a second consecutive three-set win.

"I was thinking, like, maybe they feel like I'm Golden State in Game 7 or something. It's different, because you're an individual player, so it's weird, I guess. Most of the time you hear the chants, it's for a whole team, not just for me," she said. "So it was pretty cool."

Not since Anna Kournikova 23 years ago has a 15-year-old made it this far at Flushing Meadows.

LET'S GO, COCO

I was thinking, like, maybe they feel like I'm Golden State in Game 7 or something. It's different, because you're an individual player, so it's weird, I guess. Most of the time you hear the chants, it's for a whole team, not just for me.

CORI GAUFF, teen tennis sensation, on the cheers from the Flushing Meadows crowd.

Gauff covered the court so well, tracking down shot after shot from Babos, running so fast and so fearlessly that she ended up face-down on court after falling.

She pounded serves of up to 190kmh, recorded nine aces, and mixed in drop shots, passing winners and all manner of other magic to great effect.

When informed of the Osaka match-up during Gauff's post-match interview, the near-capacity crowd produced a collective "ooooh", and she responded by smiling and shrugging her shoulders.

"I don't have any thoughts on it right now, because I have to play doubles (on Friday) with Caty, so I'm really focused on that," Gauff said, referring to her partner, Caty McNally, the 17-year-old American who pushed Serena Williams to three sets on Wednesday.

The 21-year-old Osaka, meanwhile, continued her bid for a second straight US Open title with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Magda Linette.

After struggling with nerves in her gruelling first-round match against Russia's Anna Blinkova, she was calm and collected, smacking 13 winners and playing stout defence to dispatch Poland's Linette.

Although they have never played an official match against each other, Gauff and Osaka have already met. They practised together at the Miami Open two years ago and exchanged confidences in the locker room after the self-contained Osaka once spotted Gauff on her own.

"She wasn't really talking to anyone, and I was, like, 'Oh looks familiar'," the Japanese said.

"I'm just going to talk to her. I know she's super young, and it's hard to transition."

Gauff said their fathers had come to know each other and that they regularly have conversations.

"She's won two Slams and is only 21," she said of Osaka.

"We are both pretty young, but I'm a little bit newer to the game. I'm just curious how my game matches up against her."

Another young American woman made some noise in New York: Taylor Townsend, 23, upset two-time Major winner Simona Halep 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) in their second-round clash.

Halep, digesting another early exit following first-round losses in 2017 and 2018, said she was "not inspired at all" in the loss to the 116th-ranked qualifier.

"I'm used to it. It's the third year. I'm disappointed. I had expectations from myself. But today was different. Sometimes it happens," the Romanian added.

"She played really well and deserved to win. I have just to look forwards. I'm Wimbledon champion, so I will not ruin that."

ASSOCIATED PRESS, NYTIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


US OPEN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2019, with the headline 'Gauff soaks in fan adulation'. Print Edition | Subscribe