Gauff, Osaka on track for blockbuster US Open clash

Published by AP / Reuters

Coco Gauff celebrates her first-round victory over Anastasia Potapova at Louis Armstrong Stadium at the US Open (Getty Images)
Teen-aged star Coco Gauff makes a resounding US Open debut after No.1 seed and defending champion Naomi Osaka opens her campaign with a three-set win.

Fifteen-year-old American sensation Coco Gauff advanced to the second round of the US Open by beating 18-year-old Russian Anastasia Potapova in three sets.

Gauff, fast becoming the “comeback kid”, emerged from a set and break down to make a winning US Open debut.

The American beat Potapova 3-6 6-2 6-4 with the players’ combined age of 33, making it the youngest match-up of the first round at Flushing Meadows.

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Earlier on Tuesday, Naomi Osaka was given a testing workout by Anna Blinkova as she began the defence of her US Open title, but the world No.1’s power and shot-making ultimately proved too much as she prevailed 6-4 6-7(5) 6-2.

Osaka will next face Magda Linette — last week’s WTA Bronx champion who is now on a nine-match winning streak — while Gauff takes on Timea Babos in her second-round match.

Should Osaka and Gauff win those matches, they would clash in the last 32.

Also advancing to the second round were top-10 seeds Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens, recent Toronto champion Bianca Andreescu, 13th seed Belinda Bencic and Australian Open 2018 champion Caroline Wozniacki, a 1-6 7-5 6-3 winner over Wang Yafan.

Like Wozniacki and Osaka, Halep required three sets to progress — she beat lucky loser Nicole Gibbs 6-3 3-6 6-2 — and will next line up against another American in Taylor Townsend.

Jelena Ostapenko, a French Open champion in 2017, beat Aleksandra Krunic in straight sets while two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza won the first set before falling in three to Alison Riske, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist this year.

In night matches, No.9 seed Aryna Sabalenka came back from a set and a break down to beat fellow Belarusian Victoria Azarenka 3-6 6-3 6-4, while 11th seed Sloane Stephens slumped to a 6-3 6-4 loss to qualifier Anna Kalinskaya, her fifth defeat from her past six outings.

Gauff scores thrilling win

With her parents jumping out of their front-row seats and a raucous partisan crowd backing her at Louis Armstrong Stadium, Gauff saw Potapova roar back from 4-1 to 4-4 in the deciding set before eventually advancing.

“I was trying to calm myself down,” Gauff said. “I was almost out.”

Similar to the way she saved match points in a Centre Court match at the All England Club during her captivating run to the fourth round at Wimbledon, Gauff did not give up.

All along the way, her mother and father were clapping and yelling, celebrating nearly every point their daughter claimed.

“I think I gave them a heart attack, especially my mom,” Gauff said. “And my dad, he looks a little bit tired over there, too.”

As strong as her serve and other strokes are, she’s already showing an ability to make adjustments during a match and figure out ways to win against older opponents, time and again.

Gauff was ranked 313th when she got a wildcard invitation into qualifying at Wimbledon, then became the youngest player in history to make it through those preliminary rounds at that prestigious tournament to make her first Grand Slam main-draw appearance.

After beating Venus Williams in the first round, then 2017 Wimbledon semifinalist Magdalena Rybarikova in the second, Gauff got to the second week before her surprising showing there ended with a loss to eventual champion Simona Halep.

It was all enough to persuade the US Tennis Association to provide her with a wildcard into this year’s US Open.

When asked about her next match, the 140th-ranked Gauff said she wasn’t exactly sure when it would be.

The answer, of course, is Thursday, because players alternate days in week one at a major tournament. Forgive her, though; this is only her second Slam with the adults.

“I’m still used to playing juniors,” Gauff said with a chuckle, “so I forgot about the day off.”

“Nervous” Osaka prevails

The unseeded Blinkova raced into a 4-1 lead in the first set and a shock appeared to be in the works but Osaka cut down her errors to win five straight games and take the opener.

The tenacious Blinkova refused to back down, however, saving a match point on Osaka’s serve in the second before breaking her to set up a tiebreak, which the Russian won when Osaka sent a return into the net.

The 21-year-old Japanese responded by looking to her box and mimicked putting a gun to her head and pulling the trigger.

Osaka stayed composed in the third, however, breaking Blinkova to take a 3-1 lead before sealing the first-round win with a blistering forehand that caught the line.

It was an erratic performance for Osaka, who committed an unsightly 50 unforced errors — 28 more than her opponent — but also blasted 44 winners and pounded eight aces.

Osaka said the nerves that come with being a first-time defending champion played a part in her slow start and also gave credit to Blinkova for an impressive performance.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been this nervous in my life,” she said in an on-court interview at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“She played really amazing. And for me, I came off really slow. I never really found my rhythm. I fought as hard as I could and I managed to win.”

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