NEW YORK, NY, USA -- American teenage sensation Coco Gauff continued another eye-opening run at a Grand Slam event with a hard-fought 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 victory over Hungarian qualifier Timea Babos on Thursday night, setting up a third-round showdown with World No.1 and defending champion Naomi Osaka at the US Open.
15-year-old wildcard Gauff overcame World No.112 Babos after two hours and 21 minutes of play, becoming the youngest woman to reach the last 32 at Flushing Meadows since Anna Kournikova’s run to the round of 16 in 1996.
"It was great," Gauff said of the match, during her post-match press conference. "I thought that the first set, I definitely was in control. In the second set, [Babos] raised her level and I wasn't able to finish the set. But she played amazing. I thought I played well, too. It was a great match."
Gauff, ranked at a career-high World No.140, extended her success in Grand Slam play, following up on her sensational fourth-round showing in her first appearance in a Grand Slam main draw as a qualifier at Wimbledon.
The excited Louis Armstrong Stadium crowd chanted and cheered for Gauff during and after the match. "Being American, playing in New York is amazing," said Gauff. "I knew obviously I was going to be the favorite, especially after Wimbledon, but also being American. [But] I didn't think it was going to be like that."
Babos and Gauff had an equal amount of winners in the encounter -- 32 apiece -- but Babos had more unforced errors, by 41 to 34. Gauff won a sterling 83 percent of points on her first serve, while Babos also did well in that metric, with a 75 percent rate of effectiveness. Babos, though, was only able to win 40 percent of points on her second serve, while Gauff claimed half of her second-service points.
Gauff said she "did feel less nervous" than she did in her US Open main-draw debut in the first round. "When you first walk out on Armstrong in general, it's a nervous feeling. So I'm glad that I was able to get through that first round. So today I was prepared and knew what to expect. I think that helped me in today's match."
Gauff will now take on reigning US Open titlist Osaka in a highly intriguing meeting on Saturday. It will be Gauff’s second match against a Top 10 player -- her Wimbledon run was ended by eventual champion Simona Halep, who was ranked No.7 at the time.
"Obviously [Osaka is] an amazing player," said Gauff. "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. I just want to enjoy it, have fun, enjoy the battle. We'll see how it goes."
"I think she's just a super sweet person on and off the court," Gauff continued, regarding Osaka. "She competes great out there. I think she shows us how to compete and the way to be off the court, too."
Gauff went down an early break after the first game but leveled the match at 1-1 after a Babos double fault on break point. From that juncture of the set, Gauff started to take command on her delivery, dropping just a single point in her next two service games as Babos repeatedly sent returns wide.
The speed of Gauff started to put her in front in rallies, as the American ran down many of the shots Babos threw at her, drawing errors from the Hungarian. Gauff claimed a critical break of serve at 4-2 after Babos fired a forehand long on break point, and the American consolidated with another thunderous love service game, putting her a game away from a one-set lead.
In the following game, Babos saved a set point with a strong serve and had three chances to convert game point after that, but errors from the Hungarian tripped her up on those opportunities. By prolonging the game, Gauff was able to whip a forehand passing winner for a second set point, which she took after Babos pushed a lob attempt wide.
Babos, however, turned the tables in the second set. The Hungarian staved off two break points to hold for 1-1, closing out that game with an ace. Big-hitting rallies ensued as the set progressed, and it was Babos who cracked the second stanza open, breaking Gauff for a 4-3 lead after the American misfired long on groundstrokes.
Gauff gritted out a hold for 5-4, crushing an ace to seal that game and force Babos to serve out the set. The Hungarian, though, was unfazed, and held with ease to level the match, wrapping up the set with a backhand winner. Babos had 11 winners in each of the first two sets, but diminished her unforced errors from 17 to seven, tying up the tilt in the process.
Babos very nearly took immediate control of the final set, holding two break points in the first game after errors from Gauff. However, Gauff knocked off a winning dropshot to erase the first, before moving to a pivotal hold of service. Babos’s power game was on song in the early stages of the set, and Gauff had to save two more break points at 2-2, but kept herself in front.
The rallies increased in length even further as the duo dragged each other around the court with sterling shot-making. As in the first set, Gauff pulled out points magically by racing around the court and catching up to balls that would draw errors from Babos, and they remained all square through 4-4.
"I just remember running down a lot of balls that third set," said Gauff. "You never know what happens if you just get your racquet over. I know sometimes a couple points she made mistakes on balls that were pretty easy. Just gave me motivation to try to get there."
After a love hold for 5-4, Gauff had firmly put the pressure on Babos to keep the match going. Babos lost the first two points of the game, but used big serves to pull to 30-30. On the next point, though, Gauff ended a rally with a super drop volley to attain her first match point. There, Babos knocked a backhand miscue into the net, and Gauff had grabbed another big win.