Gauff comes through wild finish to beat Osaka in San Jose

SAN JOSE, Calif. — No. 11 Coco Gauff defeated former No. 1 Naomi Osaka 6-4, 6-4 to advance to the quarterfinals of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic on Thursday night. The win brought Gauff’s career to two wins apiece in the head-to-head against Osaka. She meets Paula Badosa, number 2, on Friday.

Gauff’s serve proved the difference: Facing one of the best servers on the tour, Gauff dominated their service games. The serve clicked for the American in San Jose. In her near-perfect opening-round match against Anhelina Kalinina, she won 89.3% of her first serve points, her highest score in the last two seasons.

That trend continued against Osaka, who failed to score a single break point on the youngster’s serve until late in the game. Just a break of serve separated the two through the first set, but Gauff kept the pressure on Osaka in the second to break them twice and build a 5-1 lead.

Osaka’s champion courage took over late in the second set as she saved four match points from 0-40 to hold at 5-2. Osaka then broke Gauff for the first time in the match as the American played her first close game of the night.

Osaka served again to stay in the match, falling behind 0-40 and saving all three match points to take their total tally to seven. Osaka holds with a roar to force Gauff to serve the win 5-4 for a second time. This time, Gauff didn’t falter, dramatically ending her eighth match point with a non-returnable body serve.

“Even though I was leading 5-1, 0-40, I knew I didn’t have the match in the bag and she proved that,” Gauff said on the pitch. “If you play Naomi, she can play light tennis. Two of the match points that I thought I had a real shot on. Otherwise ace, ace, non-refundable, winner. So I wasn’t too mad. I was just like eventually it will settle down and if it doesn’t settle down, it’s probably not my day.”

Osaka struggled to smash through Gauff’s baseline defense: Gauff’s movement is second to none, but Osaka has successfully found gaps in their game in their previous two wins at the 2019 US Open and their last meeting in Cincinnati last summer. That was not the case on a balmy San Jose night. As the sun went down, conditions began to clearly favor the fast American. She held Osaka to just 12 winners in the game while hitting 19 winners with her own shots.

This was the best of their four meetings: Nerves played a role in the previous three games. Gauff was stunned by the moment in their memorable first encounter in New York and Osaka was nervous about their second a few months later at the Australian Open. Osaka defeated Gauff in three sets in Cincinnati last summer, but the former No. 1 admitted she was incredibly tight during that raspy affair.

Nerves didn’t play a role on Thursday evening. It was an accurate reflection of their respective games at the moment. With her dominating serve and stable forehand, San Jose has been a fantastic showcase for all the improvements in Gauff’s game this year. After reaching her first major final at the French Open, Gauff is now knocking on the door of the top 10 and no one is questioning her right to the milestone.

Despite the high score, it wasn’t a bad performance by any means from Osaka, who showed her class in the first round, defeating Zheng Qinwen in three quality sets.

But there’s a reason Gauff sits 3rd behind Iga Swiatek and Ons Jabeur in the Porsche Race to the WTA Finals leaderboard. The 18-year-old was one of the best players in the world in 2022. Tonight she showed exactly why.

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