NEW YORK -- In the most buzzed-about matchup thus far at the US Open, defending champion and world No. 1 Naomi Osaka took on 15-year-old tennis prodigy Coco Gauff in a third-round clash Saturday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium. It was the first meeting between the two, and while it wasn't exactly the best match, it set the scene for what could be a tremendous rivalry and friendship for years to come.
With Rod Laver, Gayle King, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks among the notable fans in attendance, Osaka reminded the crowd why she's the top-ranked player and a two-time Grand Slam champion, winning 6-3, 6-0 in just over an hour. (Watch replay of the match here.)
Osaka will next face Belinda Bencic, who advanced via walkover, in the fourth round on Monday (full coverage on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN App). Before we start thinking about that match, let's look at the biggest takeaways from Osaka's win Saturday night.
There are loud, enthusiastic crowds and then there's the one that showed up on Saturday night. It seemed like virtually every one of the 23,771 seats was filled, and to say the fans were into the action on the court would be an understatement.
As of Saturday morning, there wasn't a ticket for the night session available on the secondary market for less than $199. It was an excited audience, and it seemed to be largely behind Gauff -- roars were heard every time she earned a point or closed out a game. When she won her first game of the night, the stadium erupted into "Let's go, Coco, let's go!"
While it was clear the collective loyalties lay with the young American, the fans were encouraging of Osaka as well and gave her a loud ovation at the end. It's hard to imagine she won't be the crowd favorite for every match she plays at the tournament going forward.
After the match, Osaka remarked on the atmosphere: "The energy tonight was crazy," she said before laughing. "Even though it wasn't for me."
Gauff has had some tough (and impressive) matches this week. Unfortunately for her, it showed on Saturday. In addition to playing two hard-fought, three-set singles matches, she also is competing in doubles with fellow American teen Caty McNally, and the two played their opener in the peak of the 88-degree afternoon heat on Friday.
Simply put, Gauff had logged a lot more minutes than Osaka entering Saturday's clash. The 15-year-old spent 351 minutes -- or just under six hours -- on court this week compared with just 219 minutes for the 21-year-old Osaka in two matches.
Gauff is accustomed to playing daily matches on the junior level but not against this level of competition, and certainly not against the No. 1 player in the world. In the second set in particular, she seemed to have few answers against Osaka and couldn't keep up at times.
Osaka and Coco give emotional joint postmatch interview
Naomi Osaka encourages Coco Gauff to join her postmatch interview and both are emotional.
Gauff played on Centre Court at Wimbledon earlier this summer, but she had never played on Arthur Ashe before. There is likely nothing in the sport that can quite prepare you for the size, scope and noise of that court. It is the biggest tennis stadium in the world, after all.
McNally, Gauff's friend and doubles partner, said Ashe was "the most insane atmosphere" she had ever played in after her second-round match against Serena Williams, and Gauff would likely agree.
The rising American star notched 18 double faults in her previous two singles matches -- the third most among the women in the tournament -- and she added another seven in the third round. For comparison, Osaka had just one in the match. Gauff was able to win only 2 of 5 break points, where Osaka took 6 of 7.
The two players entered the clash with similar numbers in regard to their strong serves -- Osaka had 10 aces in her first two matches, compared with Gauff's nine. Both have blistering fast serve speeds -- Gauff came in with the fifth-best mark in the tournament at 118 mph, and Osaka was not far behind with a 116 mph serve. Although Gauff had the fastest serve of the night at 119 mph, it was Osaka who had five aces (versus just one for Gauff). Osaka had a 73% win percentage on her first serve, compared with an uncharacteristically low 43% for Gauff.
The sportsmanship (for the win!)
After all the hype, the tennis itself wasn't all that compelling. What everyone will remember for years to come is the incredible display of sportsmanship after the match. Gauff walked to her chair immediately following the loss, clearly about to cry, when Osaka walked over and gave her a huge hug and told her how well she played and that she understood what Gauff was feeling. Osaka then asked Gauff to do the on-court interview with her, and it was one of the more heartwarming things you'll ever see in sports as they traded compliments and shed more than a few tears.
In a decade, when these two are battling for their latest Grand Slam title, we'll still be watching this clip in adoration.