The enthralling run of 15-year-old prodigy Coco Gauff had to come to an end eventually. She fell in straight sets, 6-3, 6-0, to No. 1 Naomi Osaka in the third round Saturday at the U.S. Open. Osaka did everything she could to make the disappointment hit Gauff as softly as possible.
After the handshake, Osaka walked over to the teen and urged her to stay on the court for an interview with her. Coco said she’d cry if she had to do it, but Osaka insisted that it’d feel better to let any emotion out in front of an appreciative crowd than to go in the shower and cry. It was a wonderful act of compassion from the top-ranked player.
So there was Coco, in between hiccup-sobs, answering questions from ESPN’s Mary Joe Fernández as the audience cheered for her effort. Despite the lopsided result, Osaka didn’t want her young opponent to be down on herself. Then, when it came time for the victor to do her interview, she started tearing up, too. She remembered how she used to see Coco and her parents training in the same facilities as her in Florida, and mused about how their journeys intersected, for the first time, at the U.S. Open, with each of them finding success.
“For me, the fact that both of us made it, and we’re both still working as hard as we can, I think it’s incredible,” Osaka said. “And I think you guys are amazing. Coco, you’re amazing.”
Throughout her career, Osaka has been refreshing, endearing, and candid. As evidenced in another instance not too long ago, she can be openly devastated when faced with defeat. The 21-year-old was compelling before she broke through, but now that she’s at the top of women’s tennis, it’s fascinating to watch how she handles the responsibility of the status. Osaka had a sense of what Gauff was going through after that loss, and tried to numb the pain.
It is through no fault of Osaka that this moment (and future moments like this) will be compared or contrasted to what happened with her, Serena Williams, and umpire Carlos Ramos at last year’s U.S. Open, when the victor earned her first Grand Slam title then wept on stage because she was caught in a controversy that had nothing to do with her. Any time she acts gracious, she’ll be seen as “classy” as opposed to Serena, as if it were a Goofus and Gallant strip. To use one to disparage the other creates a false binary, and to keep tying Osaka to that fiasco is unfair, especially since she didn’t do anything wrong. She has already proven to be great in her own right and doesn’t need any misguided sympathy. Ideally, as Osaka gets older, the only reason she and Williams will be compared to each other is for the number of titles they’ve each won.