A Match to Remember
For those unfamiliar with Naomi Osaka, the defending U.S. Open women's tennis champ, she deserves your attention. An outstanding athlete wise beyond her 21 years, Osaka brought to light the incredible force elite level athletes have in influencing their audience. In this case, Osaka's main audience was her competition, 15 year old phenom Coco Gauff.
Saturday marked the 3rd Round matchup between the No.1 ranked Osaka and the former junior No. 1 ranked prodigy Gauff at the U.S. Open. There was a lot of hype behind the match. Osaka, the reigning champ from last year, and Gauff, the most talked about player in 2019 after defeating Venus Williams at Wimbledon, had high hopes for the tournament.
The match ended up being a relatively one-sided affair with Osaka taking both sets handily 6-0 and 6-3. But Osaka's true professionalism didn't show until her post-game interview. After the match, meeting at the net, the two embraced and shared what seemed like a heartfelt exchange. Then, unexpectedly, both players joined ESPN anchor Mary Joe Fernandez for a post-game interview. Gauff, through tears, let it be known that Osaka invited her to share the interview and applauded Osaka for being so supportive.
When asked about the win and handling her role as a mentor to Gauff, Osaka's first response was to downplay the mentorship and congratulate Coco's parents in the stands for their excellent parenting and to be proud of what their daughter has and will continue to accomplish.
How's that for handling your superstar status? To be the "veteran" player at 21 after defeating your 15 year old counterpart only to put yourself in her shoes and soften the blow of defeat by sharing the moment and highlighting how hard each of you have worked to be where you are.
This was an incredible show of humility and sportsmanship. And Osaka is no stranger to this dynamic. Remember her win last year at the U.S. Open? Perhaps not, being that the show was largely stolen by an argument between Serena Williams and umpire Carlos Ramos. Osaka cried in that post-game interview, being so overwhelmed by the controversy (by no fault of her own) surrounding her 1st Grand Slam title.
With her kind gesture and encouraging words, both Osaka and Gauff can move forward with a firm understanding of what it means to be an athlete. Coco said in a later interview: "For me, the definition of an athlete is someone who on the court treats you like your worst enemy but off the court can be your best friend. I think that’s what she did tonight.”