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Gauff gets through wild finish to beat Osaka in San Jose

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

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

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

The champions of Osaka’s courage took over late in the second set, when she saved four match points from 0-40 to 5-2. Osaka then broke Gauff for the first time in the game, as the American played her first tight game of the evening.

Osaka again served to stay in the game, but fell 0-40 and saved all three match points to bring her tally to seven. Osaka holds the serve with a roar to force Gauff to serve out the win for the second time at 5-4.

“When I just played the game, I realized that I had been called mentally weak for so long that I forgot who I was,” said Osaka. “I realized that’s something I do. I lost the game today, but I’m very confident in who I am. I feel like the pressure won’t beat me. I’m the pressure. I’m very happy there along.”

This time, Gauff didn’t hesitate and capped off a dramatic finish on her eighth match point with an irreversible body service.

“At 5-1, 0-40 I wasn’t settled at all,” said Gauff. “It’s rare for someone to come back from 0-40 twice, but it’s Naomi. That just shows how much of a fight she has. She could have easily thrown in the towel, but she didn’t.”

Osaka struggled to get through Gauff’s basic defence: Gauff’s movement is unparalleled, but Osaka has successfully found holes in her game during her two previous victories at the 2019 US Open and their last meeting in Cincinnati last summer. That was not the case on a mild night in San Jose. As the sun set, conditions clearly began to favor the fast American. She kept Osaka to just 12 winners in the match, as she unleashed her own blows, hitting 19 winners.

“I think I’ve improved in every way and I showed that today,” said Gauff. “I knew it was going to be hard to play against Naomi. I think she has one of the best baseline games in the game. If I play her, I know if she wins the match, she will get me there, in those baseline rallies “I think I really stood my ground today and won a lot more of those rallies than they did. That just goes to show how much I’m improving. The past three weeks, so many hours on the track and I’m glad it’s coming together.”

This was the best of their four encounters: Nerves played a part in their previous three games. Gauff was blown away by the moment during their memorable first meeting in New York and Osaka was nervous during their second at the Australian Open a few months later. Osaka defeated Gauff in three sets in Cincinnati last summer, but the former No. 1 admitted he was incredibly tight during that awkward affair.

Nerves played no role on Thursday evening. It was an accurate reflection of their respective games at this time. Between her dominating serve and steady forehand, San Jose this year has been a fantastic showcase for all the improvements to Gauff’s play. After making her first major final at the French Open, Gauff is now knocking on the door of the Top 10, with no one questioning her entitlement to the milestone.

Despite the heavy score, this was certainly not a bad performance from Osaka, who showed her class in the first round by beating Zheng Qinwen in three quality sets. She regained her fighting spirit against Gauff and leaves San Jose in good spirits, recognizing the need for matches.

But there is a reason why Gauff is number 3 behind Iga Swiatek and Ons Jabeur in the Porsche Race to the WTA Finals standings. The 18-year-old was one of the best players in the world in 2022. On this evening she showed exactly why.

San Jose: Gauff beats Osaka to go head-to-head, in QFs

2022 San Jose

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