This time, Osaka looked at the end like she would be the one in tears. And this time, Gauff was tightly focused and unbowed. More, she looked utterly confident, seeming to own the arena from the moment she took to the court. Once the match got going, she continuously kept her opponent off balance by keeping the ball low, deep and flat.
Gauff won most of the short rallies, and most of the long ones, too. Seventy-five percent of her first serves went in, and she took 76 percent of those points. Those are all very solid numbers. They showed she had control of her nerves. “I was pretty composed,” she said, “and really calm.”
She just keeps getting better, keeps embracing big moments with a wisdom beyond her years. It seems like just yesterday when Cocomania started on those hot afternoons at Wimbledon, then continued through to that tough loss to Osaka in New York.
She is still as charming as ever, lighting up the on-court interview after her match by admitting that, yes, she had seen the legend Rod Laver on the grounds but had been too bashful to approach him. “If he sees this, tell him we can set up a meet up for some time. I need a selfie for Instagram,” she said. Laver soon responded with a congratulatory tweet post, noting that he would love to meet the young star.
Her personality isn’t changing, but her game is. She is a different player now. Taller, stronger, more capable. She owns a tour singles title, having won the crown in Linz, Austria, in October. A major is a different animal, of course. But as she stares down at the back half of this tournament — needing four more victories for a championship — this much is sure: Coco Gauff is going to keep having fun. And not for a moment will she be intimidated.
“I’m just thinking about playing ball,” she said.
“I don’t really think about the defending champion and all of this. I just always have that belief I can win, regardless of the opponent.”