It’s been a rough week at the U.S. Open in the world of men’s tennis. Here is a shortlist of the buzziest stories from this year’s tournament: No. 5 seed Daniil Medvedev throws a series of tantrums, the crowd boos him, top-seeded Novak Djokovic retires, he admits that the big retirement is near. Oh, and the crowd inexplicably boos him, too.
The displeased crowds, which Medvedev thanked for the motivation and which were deservedly ripped for booing Djokovic, have made more headlines than the athletes. Roger Federer is now gone, and while Rafael Nadal has shown flashes of vintage greatness, that has been largely lost in the noise.
The biggest story on the women’s side? Perhaps the best sports moment of the year, when Naomi Osaka comforted Coco Gauff after their third round match. Osaka, who was showered with boos in last year’s controversial final against Serena Williams, defeated the beloved 15-year old American in straight sets.
Last year, when Osaka took down the fan favorite, she stared at the ground and accepted her fate, labeled a villain for no fault of her own. This year, she turned the moment into a heartwarming display of sportsmanship and respect.
Gauff, who has rightfully taken the tennis world by storm after a Cinderella run at Wimbledon, was visibly upset after the final point, wiping away tears as the crowd provided a standing ovation. When the two met at the net, Osaka—who sensed Gauff’s despair despite becoming the youngest woman in the third round of the Open in over two decades—made an offer rarely seen in professional tennis.
“She told me that I did amazing and good luck, and then she asked if I could do the on-court interview with her,” Gauff said, fighting back tears. “I said no, because I knew that I was going to cry the whole time, but she encouraged me to do it.”
Osaka is six years older than Coco, but at 21 years old, that doesn’t say a whole lot. The world No. 1 and reigning U.S. Open champ, Osaka put on an absolute clinic, needing just over an hour of near flawless tennis to defeat the young American. She’s already got two Grand Slams under her belt, a feat Coco seems certainly able to match.
“[Osaka] did amazing, and I’m going to learn a lot from this match. She’s been so sweet to me, so thank you for this,” Gauff continued, turning to look at her opponent. “Thank you.”
With both players yet to reach their peak, the heavily anticipated match was a thrilling glimpse into the future of women’s tennis. It wasn’t competitive this time around, but it’s likely (and hopefully) far from the last time these two will face off.
Gauff handed the mic over to Osaka, not wanting to steal the spotlight, the two embracing once again. Before speaking about anything else, Osaka addressed Coco’s parents in the stands.
“You guys raised an amazing player,” Osaka said, tears of her own now flowing. “I used to see you guys training in the same place as us, and the fact that both of us made it, and we’re both still working as hard as we can, I think it’s incredible. I think you guys are amazing, and Coco, I think you’re amazing.”
The only Japanese woman to win a Grand Slam, Osaka has spoken openly about her struggles with loneliness on tour. Last year’s Open win should’ve been a moment of pure bliss. Instead, as boos rained down, though not directed at her, Osaka could only celebrate in silence. After Saturday’s match, it seems she walked off with more than just a victory on the court.
“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,” Gauff said later. “I think that’s what she [Osaka] did tonight.”
Despite the brilliance she showed against Coco, Osaka’s title defense came to an end on Tuesday, falling to No. 13 Belinda Bencic, the third time that she’s lost to Bencic this season. Osaka was poised and respectful as always, quietly walking off without any interview this time.
It was perhaps an indication that Osaka, who has been inconsistent since earning the title of world No. 1, like Gauff, is not quite ready to be one of the game’s greats. Meanwhile, Williams, who has expressed her deep apologies for last year’s final, is two wins away from a 24th Grand Slam.
The torch has yet to be passed. But when it is, Osaka and Gauff will be more than willing to be the faces of women’s tennis together.
Thumbnail photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash.
Andrew Morrison is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.