Coco Gauff pulls off biggest shock yet by beating Naomi Osaka
Meanwhile, Caroline Wozniacki’s career ends with defeat to Ons Jabeur in Melbourne
Coco Gauff of the USA celebrates after winning her third round match against Naomi Osaka of Japan on day five of the Australian Open. Photo: Dave Hunt/EPA
Coco Gauff stunned defending champion Naomi Osaka to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open.
The 15-year-old has already made headlines around the world but none of her achievements so far could compare to this as she took apart one of the best players in the world.
Gauff, who won just three games against Osaka when they met at the US Open last summer, was rock solid and took advantage of a error-strewn display from her opponent to win 6-3 6-4.
The teenager was stunned by her achievement, saying: “Two years ago I lost first round in juniors, and now I’m here. This is crazy.
“I was just telling myself one point at a time and keep fighting because you never know what happens on this court.
“I’m on Rod Laver Arena, I can’t believe this.”
Gauff said she had been too shy to speak to Laver when she had passed him in the corridor but hoped to set up a meeting.
Laver was quick to respond on Twitter, saying: “Hello Coco Gauff — congratulations on your incredible victory tonight. I would love to meet you too.”
The American is the youngest player to beat a top-five ranked opponent since Jennifer Capriati toppled Gabriela Sabatini at the 1991 US Open.
While this was a spectacular day for Gauff, it was a desperately disappointing one for Osaka, who had battled so brilliantly to win her second grand slam title here 12 months ago but succumbed meekly and could now drop out of the top 10.
Gauff must have taken inspiration from Wang Qiang, who was brutally hit off the court by Serena Williams in New York last summer only to beat her on the same court earlier in the day.
What was clear from the start was how much Gauff’s serve has improved and she comfortably kept Osaka at bay while displaying her remarkable composure for a player so new to this level.
Gauff would still be considered young in the juniors but there is no doubt she belongs on the biggest stages the sport has to offer.
The teenager was trading well with Osaka from the back of the court and, as the first set progressed, it was the defending champion who started to snatch at her shots, missing a succession of backhands.
From 3-3, Gauff won three straight games to move a set in front and then broke the Osaka serve again at the start of the second set.
She had two chances to hold for 2-0 but could not take either and it seemed the chink of light that Osaka needed to get a foothold in the match again.
But the Japanese player simply was not playing well, and the unforced errors continued to flow.
Gauff broke again to lead 4-3 and, although Osaka forced her young opponent to serve it out, a comeback never looked on the cards.
Earlier in the day, Caroline Wozniacki’s career ended as it played out — with a lot of fight and a big smile.
The former world number one announced last month that the Australian Open, the scene of her greatest triumph when she broke her grand slam duck in 2018, would also be the stage for her professional farewell at the age of 29.
Wozniacki would have hoped to stretch out the goodbye a little longer but Tunisian Ons Jabeur made her own grand slam breakthrough with a 7-5 3-6 7-5 victory.
“There’s a lot of emotions, a lot of things I can’t compartmentalise now,” said the Dane.
“A lot of excitement. A little sadness. Flashbacks to since I was a kid to this moment.
“The fact that it’s gone so quick but at the same time it feels like I’ve been out here for a long time. Players coming up to me and congratulating me. Just feeling the love from everyone has been very special.”
Wozniacki had staged a trademark fightback to beat Dayana Yastremska in the second round and looked like she might do the same when she recovered from 0-3 in the deciding set.
But Jabeur, the first Arab woman to make the last 16 at a slam, had not read the script and Wozniacki pushed a forehand long on the first match point.
In a tearful post-match interview, she made a joke about the shot that has been her major weakness, saying: “I think it was only fitting that my last match would be a three-setter, a grinder, and that I would finish my career with a forehand error.”
At her press conference later, she added: “Throughout the match there were a couple of times where I was like, ‘Shoot, this could be my last one’. It was just like, ‘I don’t want it to be the last one, I want to be out there fighting’.
“I fought like my life depended on it. I think the result today doesn’t matter to me as much as the way that I fought, that I gave it everything. I wanted to be out there. I did everything. Throughout my career, that’s what I’m known for.
“It’s exciting. It’s terrifying. It’s a lot of emotions at the same time. But I’m happy. I’m very happy. Even though I was crying a lot earlier, it really wasn’t sad tears.”
A teenage prodigy, Wozniacki was a grand slam finalist at 19 and world number one a year later. But a slam title remained elusive until this tournament two years ago, when she defeated Simona Halep in an epic final to add what proved to be the final piece of the jigsaw.
“I’ve learnt so much,” said Wozniacki. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without all those experiences.
“I think the main thing I’ve learned is, no matter where you’re from, no matter what colour of your skin, no matter if you’re tall or short, big or small, it doesn’t matter. If you have a dream and you go for it and work hard, anything is possible.
“I had a dream when I was a kid. I wanted to win a grand slam. I wanted to be number one in the world. People thought that I was crazy being from a small country. But I made it happen. I worked so hard for it every single day. I’m very, very proud of that.”
The tournament had compiled a film of Wozniacki’s friends and rivals paying tribute to her, while she was joined on court by her family, with dad Piotr, her coach throughout her career, hoisting her high in the air.
“I think what happened today was perfect,” she said. “It was a packed stadium. People stood up. There was ‘Sweet Caroline’ through the microphones. People were clapping. I had the Danish flag at my back. I had my family there.
“I don’t think I could have scripted it any better. I think it was the perfect moment.”
Wozniacki has made no secret of her desire to start a family with husband David Lee, the former NBA player, while she will also work to raise awareness of rheumatoid arthritis, which was was diagnosed with in 2018.
She admits tennis will be hard to replace, saying: “I think what I’m going to miss is that competitiveness. Winning a tight match, that adrenaline I think is going to be very hard to duplicate in anything else that I’ll do.
“I’m sure there are going to be times when I wish I was out there playing in grand slam finals or semi-finals. But there will be other moments in my life that I think are going to mean just as much, or maybe more.”