FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. — Some 98,000 Wilson tennis balls have been supplied to the 2019 US Open. Moments after 15-year-old Coco Gauff took her final singles swing at one of them Saturday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium, her head dropped, her friend across the net exulted and the most stirring story line at America’s Grand Slam came to an end in the third round, which was way earlier than her fast-growing legion of fans wanted.
Playing before nearly 24,000 people in the world’s biggest tennis venue, Gauff, of Delray Beach, Florida, showcased her electrifying athleticism and punishing power at times, but it wasn’t enough to overcome her friend and South Florida neighbor, No. 1 Naomi Osaka.
The defending US Open champion and Japanese native dispatched Gauff 6-3, 6-0 in front of enthralled crowd that was certainly pro-Gauff but was obviously in awe of Osaka’s shot-making ability and pinpoint accuracy.
As much as the capacity crowd tried to encourage Gauff and will her into the match, Osaka, who had 24 winners to Gauff’s six, was too dominant, too unrelenting, to overcome. Gauff’s night included seven double faults.
Osaka won the Australian Open in January but has struggled for most of 2019, at one point losing her No. 1 ranking to Australian Ashleigh Barty before regaining it in the weeks prior to the US Open. Osaka beat Serena Williams, arguably the best player in women’s tennis history, in last year’s US Open to win her first Grand Slam singles title.
Gauff, who began her summer with a charge to the fourth round at Wimbledon, was hoping to bookend it at her home Slam, a dream that couldn’t surmount Osaka’s championship pedigree.
Gauff, who played to chants of “Here we go, Coco” from fans, had already made some history in New York, becoming the youngest woman to reach the US Open third round since Anna Kournikova in 1996.
Osaka took control early after holding serving to open the match by breaking Gauff in the second game. After Osaka held again for 3-0, Gauff finally got on the board in the fourth game, closing it out with a 119-mile-per-hour ace.
The players then exchanged four consecutive breaks of serve, allowing Osaka to serve for the match at 5-3. After failing behind 0-30, Osaka won the next four points to take the opening set.
The match then went off the rails for Gauff as the unforced errors increased and her demeanor deflated.
Gauff gifted Osaka a break to open the second set as she struggled to get a first serve in. Osaka then battled back from another deficit on her serve to take a 2-0 lead for the second consecutive set before breaking Gauff once again to go to 3-0.
Osaka moved to 4-0 with an ace that was initially called out by the linesman but was overruled by replay after a challenge challenge. She then closed out the next two games before both players embraced at the net in a rare display of emotion.
Osaka consoled a distraught Gauff by the umpire’s chair before both did the post-match interview. Asked by ESPN’s Mary Jo Fernandez, what Osaka said to Gauff, the teenager replied, “She told me I did amazing and asked if I would do the on-court interview with her. I said, ‘No,’ because I knew I would cry, but she encouraged me to do it.
“She’s been amazing, and I’m going to learn so much from this,” Gauff continued. “She’s been so sweet to me, so thank you for this. Thank you. … I don’t want people to think I’m trying to take this moment away from her because she truly deserves it.”
Next up for Osaka is Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic, the No. 12 seed, who advanced to the fourth round via walkover after Anett Kontaveit of Estonia withdrew from the tournament.
Contributing: Ellen J. Horrow in Arlington, Va.