In a sport where it's not uncommon for players to break racquets and shout obscenities, Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff redefined the meaning of good sportsmanship after Osaka beat Gauff in the third round of the U.S. Open Saturday night. Tennis sensation Gauff suddenly looked like the 15-year-old teenager she is when tears involuntarily streamed down her cheeks after Osaka beat her, 6-3, 6-0. But that was not the end of the story.
Breaking with tradition, Osaka, herself only 21 years old, approached her tearful opponent and encouraged her to do the post-match interview with her — an honor usually reserved solely for the winner. As they were interviewed by ESPN's Mary Jo Fernandez, the sold-out crowd of 23,000 at Arthur Ashe Stadium watched in awe as Osaka changed what could have been a moment of devastation for Gauff into a moment of triumph.
"She told me that I did amazing," Gauff revealed of the conversation between the two players moments before at the net. "She asked if I could do the encore interview with her, and I said no because I knew I was going to cry the whole time, but she encouraged me to do it."
The crowd cheered for both women and Coco's parents looked on with pride as their daughter explained what it was like to play Osaka.
"She did amazing and I'm going to learn a lot from this match. She's been so sweet to me so thank you for this," Gauff said.
Naomi Osaka took to social media last night to keep up the encouragement of her young opponent.
"Keep your head up, you've got so much to be proud of," Osaka tweeted, tagging Coco Gauff and calling her a "warrior" and adding strength and fire emojis to her post.
It was just a year ago when the shoe was on the other foot for Osaka, having just beat her idol Serena Williams at the 2018 U.S. Open. As the crowd booed at the end of that match, Williams was the one building up Osaka. It was a classy move of great sportsmanship that seems to have spilled over to this year's games.
And although she humbly rejected the notion that she is a "mentor" to Gauff, Osaka, who holds two Grand Slam titles, certainly sounded like a seasoned veteran as she searched the crowd for Gauff's parents.
"You guys raised an amazing player," she said to them, taking a moment to compose herself before continuing. "I remember I used to see you guys training in the same place as us and for me, like the fact that both of us made it, and we're both still working as hard as we can I think it's incredible. And I think you guys are amazing. Coco, you're amazing," she said, addressing Gauff directly as the audience roared in applause.
There wasn't a dry eye in the stadium.