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Coco Gauff eyeing number one Naomi Osaka at US Open

The 15-year-old sensation reached the third round with a three-set victory over Timea Babos and will play the defending champion on Saturday.

Coco Gauff eyeing number one Naomi Osaka at US Open
Emilee Chinn AFP

Coco Gauff became the youngest player to reach the third round of the US Open since Anna Kournikova in 1996 as she overcame relative veteran Timea Babos in three sets to earn a shot at the defending champion and world number one, Naomi Osaka, on Saturday.

It is a sign of the times that the much-hyped first round match between old antagonists Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova was a damp squib, the 23-times Grand Slam champion wiping the court with her Russian adversary more effectively than those tasked with dredging the courts after a deluge at Flushing Meadows a day later.

But the match-up between Osaka, 21, and the precocious Gauff, 15, will surely draw the crowds two by two until the 23,771-seater Arthur Ashe Stadium is full to the rafters for what might prove to be the match of the tournament. Osaka blows hot and cold, capable of the sublime and occasional troughs in form; Gauff comes out in every game like a summer hailstorm, peppering the court with hefty groundstrokes on the back of a serve that is already one of the most powerful in the women’s game. Osaka will have to weather that, as well as a partisan crowd who cheered her every shot last year but will be firmly behind America’s new darling under the lights on Saturday.

Gauff’s ranking has soared from 875 at the end of 2018 to 140 – Babos by comparison is at 112 – and yet she will not go into the game as the underdog. A run to the fourth round of Wimbledon, beating Venus Williams along the way, and securing the doubles title in Washington a few weeks ago alongside 17-year-old Caty McNally – who took a set off Serena Williams in the second round at Flushing Meadows.

Gauff: "Naomi actually hits the ball pretty hard"

Asked if McNally and other up-and-comers such as Taylor Townsend, who saw off Simona Halep in the second round on Thursday, helped to inspire her and in turn push the rest of this new generation forward, Gauff replied: “Yeah, for sure. I remember in Midland she [McNally] won her first pro title. I lost second round that tournament. She kind of inspired me, like, okay, it's possible to do well, I think, just in general, not just me and Caty but all the young Americans.

"I saw Taylor won today. I think we're all just kind of pushing each other. Obviously when we play against each other, we don't want the other person to win. But literally when we're playing someone else, we root for each other."

Gauff plays doubles with McNally on Friday and feels that match may aid her preparations for two-time grand slam champion Osaka.

"For me, doubles isn't a problem. I mean, juniors, I played doubles a lot of the times, almost every tournament if I can get into doubles, I'm playing it," said Gauff.

"To me it helps because it's a different game. I guess you get to work on volleys, you get to work on your returns a lot in doubles.

"I think that's actually going to prepare me for Naomi, because doubles to me is more faster paced than singles. Naomi actually hits the ball pretty hard. I think it will prepare me well for Saturday's match."