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25 February 2024

Osaka, crowd help tearful Coco cope with lopsided loss

Photo: AFP


US teen sensation Coco Gauff's first appearance at Arthur Ashe Stadium left both players crying Saturday night and produced one of the most touching moments in US Open history.

Top-ranked defending champion Naomi Osaka captured the last eight games in a dominating 6-3, 6-0 third-round victory that had 15-year-old Gauff wiping away tears, but it was what happened next that was memorable.

The 21-year-old Japanese star pleaded with Gauff to stay on the court and join her for a post-match interview.

"I definitely was wanting to leave the court because I'm not the type of person who wants to cry in front of everyone," Gauff said. "I didn't want to take that moment away from her as well.

"She told me, 'It's better than crying in the shower.' She convinced me multiple times to stay. I kept saying no. Finally I said, 'OK, I'll do it.' Because I didn't know what to do."

Wiping away tears, she stayed and poured out her heart as the crowd roared with excitement at the sporting gesture by Osaka, herself in tears, to a child rival needing support at a painful moment.

"After the match, I think she just proved that she's a true athlete," Gauff said. "For me the definition of an athlete is someone who on the court treats you like your worst enemy but off the court can be your best friend. I think that's what she did tonight.

"She really showed sportsmanship. I mean, I wasn't expecting it."

And Gauff had no regrets about staying and speaking as the tears rolled down her face.

"I'm glad I was able to experience that moment," Gauff said. "I'm glad the crowd was kind of helping me and her. She was crying, she won. I was crying. Everybody was crying. I was like, I don't know why she was crying. 'You won the match.'

"Everybody was crying. But I think it was a good moment for both of us."

Osaka's own moment of ultimate victory last year was spoiled by boos in the same stadium after a controversial game penalty against Serena Williams helped her take the title, prompting her to later call the moment "bittersweet," something Gauff understands.

"I'm still a little bit sad because it's still fairly new. I think tomorrow I'll really cherish the experience," Gauff said.

"I hope that next year I'll be able to play on Ashe again. It was a great court, a great atmosphere out there. Maybe next time I'll come out on top."

'A good moment for me'

Gauff usually only projects strength on court, as in her run to the fourth round at Wimbledon in July in her Grand Slam debut.

"I guess it shows that I'm human. Athletes in general just experience things, and we show emotion, good and bad," Gauff said.

"People see the more pumping up side of me, the more fiery side. I guess that side is good for other people to see. I'm glad I was able to experience that on the biggest stage. I really thank Naomi for that because it was a good moment for me."

Gauff even found positives learning how far her game must grow to test Osaka.

"I'll learn a lot from this match. She's the number one player in the world right now, so I know what I need to do to get to that level," Gauff said. "She's at the top of her game right now.

"I got to the third round in my first main draw US Open. I'm super proud of myself. I'm just going to continue to learn.

"My dad told me I'm 15, I still have a lot to work on, a lot to improve. But I think that today definitely I learned a lot."