Naomi Osaka wins in front of Kobe, Colin Kaepernick; Coco Gauff next

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NEW YORK — For Naomi Osaka, having Kobe Bryant and Colin Kaepernick in her U.S. Open player box put the last year into perspective. Her next opponent, 15-year-old American Coco Gauff, causes Osaka to be introspective, too.

“You know, like, last year compared to this year there is no way, like, Kobe would sit in my box,” Osaka said after sweeping Poland’s Magda Linette 6-2, 6-4 in the second round Thursday. “Yeah, Kaepernick, too. It’s just crazy who you run into in life.”

Osaka, a 21-year-old who represents Japan, came into last year’s U.S. Open having never made a major quarterfinal. She left with the title after beating Serena Williams in a final that proved controversial for Williams but clutch for Osaka. She then won the Australian Open and became the first Asian player to be ranked No. 1.

Spring and summer struggles followed, but she still has the No. 1 next to her name at this event. And now some very famous friends.

“I know Kobe,” she said of Bryant, who has served a mentor role. “This is actually the first time I have ever met Colin, and it wasn’t even through me. … It’s really cool, but honestly, I just wanted to finish as fast as possible because I didn’t want them to stay in the sun too long.”

U.S. OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

Something else happened to Osaka after Thursday’s match that might have seemed unfathomable in the first week last year: a girl cried after getting a hug from her.

“I’d rather people don’t cry,” Osaka said. “It kind of makes me emotional, too. Yeah, I mean, it’s really crazy for me. I know, like, everyone said that the past year has been, like, insane. I think it’s moments like that that sort of make me realize it.”

Gauff, who made a magnetic run to the Wimbledon fourth round, was pushed to three sets in each of her first two matches this week. That included winning her U.S. Open night session debut over Hungarian qualifier Timea Babos 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 on Thursday.

She and Osaka play each other for the first time in Saturday’s third round. But they are already familiar, having practiced together when Osaka was a teen. Their dads are friends, too.

“I don’t have any thoughts on it right now because I have to play doubles tomorrow,” Gauff said, noting her first-round doubles match with 17-year-old Caty McNally, with whom she won the 2018 U.S. Open junior doubles title. “I don’t even know what today is.”

Osaka saw a bit of herself in Gauff when she came across the American keeping to herself in the locker room.

“Off the court she seems like me,” Osaka said. “Well, she seems a little bit more, like, she knows what she’s doing.

“I would love for her to come out of her shell a little bit. I just realize that’s probably what people say about me, too.”

At Wimbledon, Gauff became the youngest woman to reach the second week since Jennifer Capriati in 1991. At the U.S. Open, she is the youngest woman to reach the third round since Anna Kournikova in 1996.

Also Thursday, the first women’s top-10 seeds bowed out: No. 4 Simona Halep, No. 6 Petra Kvitova and No. 9 Aryna Sabalenka.

Halep, the Wimbledon champion, staved off match points, then squandered one before American Taylor Townsend ousted her 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4). Townsend, a former junior No. 1, made the third round of a Slam for the second time overall and the first time since the 2014 French Open. She had to qualify into the U.S. Open and notched her first win over a top-10 player in 11 career tries.

Rafael Nadal joined Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in the third round after Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis withdrew before their match with a shoulder injury.

MORE: Serena Williams has terse reply to question about chair umpire

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2022 Ironman Kona World Championships results

Ironman Kona World Championships
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2022 Ironman Kona World Championship top-10 results and notables (full, searchable pro and age group results are here) …

Pro Women
1. Chelsea Sodaro (USA) — 8:33:46
2. Lucy Charles-Barclay (GBR) — 8:41:37
3. Anne Haug (GER) — 8:42:22
4. Laura Philipp (GER) — 8:50:31
5. Lisa Norden (SWE) — 8:54:43
6. Fenella Langridge (GBR) — 8:56:26
7. Sarah Crowley (AUS) — 9:01:58
8. Daniela Ryf (SUI) — 9:02:26
9. Skye Moench (USA) — 9:04:31
10. Laura Siddall (GBR) — 9:07:49
16. Heather Jackson (USA) — 9:22:17
DNF. Sarah True (USA)

Pro Men
Race is on Saturday, live on Peacock at 12 p.m. ET.

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Chelsea Sodaro wins Ironman Kona World Championship, ends American drought

Chelsea Sodaro
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Chelsea Sodaro was the surprise winner of the Ironman Kona World Championships women’s race, ending the longest American victory drought in the event’s 44-year history.

Sodaro, a 33-year-old mom to an 18-month-old, prevailed in an unofficial 8 hours, 33 minutes, 46 seconds on Hawaii’s Big Island.

“My mind is a little bit blown right now,” she said in a finish area interview 25 minutes later, standing next to her daughter, Skylar. “This is the culmination of things being right in my life and having perspective. … This is freakin’ incredible, but the greatest gift at the end of the finish line is my little 18-month-old.”

Sodaro was in fifth place after the 2.6-mile swim and 112-mile bike, then recorded one of the fastest 26.2-mile marathon runs in event history (2:51:45) to win by 7 minutes, 50 seconds over Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay.

Swiss Daniela Ryf, who was eyeing her sixth Ironman world title, led after the bike but faded quickly on the run.

MORE: Ironman Kona Race Results

Sodaro, whose lone previous full Ironman was a second-place finish at June’s European Championships (reportedly in the second-fastest Ironman distance debut in history), became the first American to win in Kona since Tim DeBoom in 2002 and the first American to win the women’s race since Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser in 1996.

She is the first woman or man to win in their Kona debut since Brit Chrissie Wellington took the first of her four titles in 2007.

Sodaro (née Reilly) was an All-America runner at Cal, then placed 19th in the 10,000m at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.

She turned to triathlon in 2017, made podiums on the World Cup circuit (just below the top-level World Series for Olympic hopefuls) and moved up to long-distance racing in 2018.

At the half Ironman distance, she was fourth at the 2019 World Championships, her last major championship start before the pandemic, pregnancy, childbirth and a move up to the full Ironman this year.

“I’m pretty stoked that I think I maybe get to take the rest of the year off and be a mom for a month or so,” Sodaro said.

The pro men’s race is Saturday, live on Peacock at 12 p.m. ET.

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