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Teenage sensation Coco Gauff will play defending U.S. Open champ Naomi Osaka


If you haven’t heard Coco Gauff’s name, memorize it now.

The 15-year-old tennis phenom is set to play defending champion Naomi Osaka in the third round of the U.S. Open Saturday. Gauff has become such an electric player that even Serena Williams is watching.

“I think it's super exciting tennis,” Serena said. “Coco is obviously much, much younger than Naomi, if you could say that, because Naomi is incredibly young. But it's shocking to say that Coco is about six years younger. I definitely think it's the future of women's tennis. And I'm really excited to just be a fan girl and kind of watch.”

Gauff, who has trained at Serena’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou’s tennis academy, will be the underdog Saturday, but it’s a role she is already learning to defy.

Coco Gauff has earned herself a third-round matchup against the defending U.S. Open champ, Naomi Osaka. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Currently ranked No. 140, Gauff was the underdog when she faced Venus Williams in the first round of Wimbledon earlier this summer. She topped the five-time Wimbledon champ and ultimately reached the fourth round, unheard of for a veritable youngster who got a wild card into the qualifying draw.

She cried when she beat Venus, and she said she hadn’t cried since — SPOILER ALERT — Iron Man died in Endgame.

“Every time I think of it, I get teary-eyed because I really liked Iron Man,” she said later that UK day.

She has continued her winning ways at the U.S. Open, beating No. 112 Timea Babos 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in the second round to earn a matchup with Osaka.

Gauff is a native of the Instagram age, with sponsorships and commercials sprinkled in her timeline. There she is posing with Serena, or more candidly in Grand Slam cities as she started winning juniors tournaments, including the 2018 French Open.

Billie Jean King says that it takes more than talent to be truly great, that a player has to walk into a packed stadium and feed off the energy. You only need to see Gauff bask in the “Coco! Coco!” chants after winning in Louis Armstrong Stadium to know she has that confidence and star power already.

But can she keep it rolling against Osaka?

Serena Williams comforts Naomi Osaka after Osaka defeated Williams in the women's final of the U.S. Open tennis tournament on Sept. 8, 2018.
Serena Williams comforts Naomi Osaka after Osaka defeated Williams in the women's final of the U.S. Open tennis tournament on Sept. 8, 2018. (Adam Hunger / AP)

“Obviously (Osaka is) an amazing player,” Gauff said. “She's defending champion. She's won two slams. She's No. 1. She's only 21. We're both pretty young. But I'm a little bit newer to the game. So I'm just curious to see how my game matches up against her. Obviously I want to win.”

Osaka was the poised young player who was squarely beating Serena in last year’s U.S. Open final before an officiating controversy derailed the match. Clearly upset as she was offered the trophy she’d earned, Osaka won the crowd over.

Really, these two are just in time.

As the Williams sisters, particularly Venus, can see the close of their careers on the horizon, Gauff-Osaka provides a tantalizing preview of the future. Both players were inspired by the Wiliams sisters, and have found success already against their role models.

Gauff’s style is notably reminiscent of Venus Williams’. Already 5-foot-10, Gauff has the long limbs that can make for a formidable first serve. Her parents were both athletes, and Gauff already seems to have a bearing well beyond her years.

“I’m a big fan of hers, I have said that since day one,” said Williams, who works with coach Patrick Mouratoglou. “I love her parents. I think she has a good family, and I think it starts there. It makes for a great athlete and a great person.”