New star Gauff ready for Osaka test 

 - Simon Cambers

American 15-year-old revelling in the spotlight in New York

Coco Gauff shouting durinh her second round match at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

With Serena Williams and Venus Williams entering the final stages of their stunning careers, America has been searching for a new star who might be capable of filling their shoes. In Coco Gauff, perhaps they have found one.

At 15, Gauff moves like Venus and has the intensity of Serena, a good combination in any young player, but especially in an African-American player, who is destined to be compared to the Williams sisters at every turn.

The youngest woman to reach the third round since 1996

The great thing about Gauff is that she would seem to be ready to deal with everything that comes her way. On Thursday, she outlasted an experienced campaigner in Timea Babos of Hungary 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in two hours, 22 minutes of baseline slugging to reach the third round at Flushing Meadows on her debut in the event.

She’s the youngest woman to reach the third round since Anna Kournikova made it in 1996 and her reward for her stamina is a meeting with the top seed and world No 1 Naomi Osaka from Japan.

Against Babos, the crowd inside Louis Armstrong Stadium were chanting her name but though she is only 15, there is an incredible maturity about Gauff, who seems unfazed by anything and inspired by big occasions, as she showed at Wimbledon where she made the fourth round, having qualified for the main draw.

“Being American, playing in New York is amazing,” Gauff said. “I knew obviously I was going to be the favourite, especially after Wimbledon, but (even) being American. I didn't think it was going to be like that. I hope that I inspire a lot of people.”

Coco Gauff on the floor at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“Off the court she seems like me“

Osaka, who beat Magda Linette in straight sets to reach the third round, said she sees something of herself in Gauff.

“Off the court she seems like me,” Osaka said. “Well, she knows what she's doing (more than she did). 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.”

With her stunning speed around the court, defensive qualities and a swagger on the court that belies her young age, Gauff seems cut out for the top, a target she has already made clear.

And Osaka’s achievements, winning the title in New York last summer and then picking up the Australian Open title a few months later, have shown the younger girls coming up that anything can be done.

“I think she just made it possible,” Gauff said. “Last year, US Open, she wasn't really like a big contender. Obviously now this year she is. She had that amazing run, then the final. Honestly, I think she's a big inspiration for everyone. She's 21. She has two slams. She's still (striving) for more.

“I think she's just a super sweet person on and off the court. She competes great out there. I think she shows us how to compete and the way to, like, be off the court, too.”

Osaka seems back to herself, on and off the court, after a tough few months when she found coping with her new found stardom, not to mention the No 1 ranking, much harder than she expected.

Naomi Osaka smiles during the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Cathartic experience

The Japanese posted a letter on social media just before the start of the north American hard-court tournaments, explaining what she’s been through in recent weeks and months.

Writing that, she said, had been an important and cathartic experience.

“It really helped me relax my mind, because it sort of, in a sort of selfish way, it made me able to make clear to everyone where I was headspace-wise,” she said.

“I think the biggest thing was I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect. I think that sort of makes other people expect a lot from me, too. So I just wanted to clear the air in that way. I'm not really thinking too much anymore.

“I feel like I'm having fun again. I'm not really caring too much about rankings or points. I'm not even thinking about winning this tournament right now. I'm thinking about my next match. I sort of feel free.”

Coco Gauff hitting a forhand during her second round match at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Gauff said she can’t wait to test herself against Osaka.

“Obviously she's an amazing player,” she said. “She's defending champion. She's won two slams. She's No 1. She's only 21. We're both pretty young. But I'm a little bit newer to the game. So I'm just curious to see how my game matches up against her. Obviously I want to win (but) I just want to enjoy it, have fun, enjoy the battle. We'll see how it goes.”