Naomi Osaka

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Naomi Osaka upset by Belinda Bencic at U.S. Open

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NEW YORK — Naomi Osaka‘s U.S. Open title defense came to an abrupt (but perhaps not too surprising) end, two days after she co-authored the moment of the tournament.

Belinda Bencic, the No. 13 seed from Switzerland, beat Osaka (7-5, 6-4) for the third time in three meetings this year to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals on Monday. Osaka also cedes her No. 1 ranking to Australian Ashleigh Barty, who was also eliminated in the fourth round on Sunday.

Bencic gets No. 23 Donna Vekic, a good friend and fellow former teen star, in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.

“The challenge cannot be bigger, against Naomi,” Bencic said. “I had to be at the top of [my] game.”

Osaka’s exit means Serena Williams, who plays No. 18 Wang Qiang in a Tuesday quarterfinal, is the only woman left in the draw who has made a Grand Slam final. Williams eyes a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title and her first as a mom after losing three Slam finals the last two seasons.

Also Monday, American Kristie Ahn‘s unexpected run ended at the hands of No. 25 Elise Mertens 6-1, 6-1. Ahn, a wild card ranked 141st, went 11 years between U.S. Open main-draw matches. Mertens gets another surprise American, Taylor Townsend, or No. 15 Bianca Andreescu of Canada in the quarters.

In men’s action, No. 20 Diego Schwartzman upset No. 6 Alexander Zverev 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3, continuing the 22-year-old Zverev’s struggles at Slams. Schwartzman, a 5-foot-7 Argentine, plays No. 2 Rafael Nadal or No. 22 Marin Cilic in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.

U.S. OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

Osaka’s follow-up the last week to her first Grand Slam title last year included another emotional post-match scene. After sweeping 15-year-old American Coco Gauff on Saturday night, Osaka urged Gauff to join her for the traditional on-court victor’s interview. Gauff obliged.

Osaka, whose U.S. Open title last year was accompanied by boos directed toward chair umpire Carlos Ramos for penalizing Williams, was lauded for her sportsmanship.

“Right now I have this feeling of sadness, but I also feel like I have learned so much during this tournament,” she said. “I grew. I don’t feel like I put so much weight on one single match.”

While Osaka finished last season as the WTA Tour’s new phenom, she goes into the last portion of this season having not made a final since the Australian Open in January. She withdrew from her last tournament before the U.S. Open with a knee injury, had that knee wrapped in every match this week, and took a painkiller and walked gingerly late in Monday’s match.

“I don’t want to say that that’s the reason that I lost, because I obviously had played, like, three matches before this,” Osaka said.

Then next year, she’ll be tasked with defending those ranking points in Australia and answering more questions about the Tokyo Olympics, where she will be one of the host nation’s biggest names across all sports.

Bencic knows the spotlight well. Formerly coached by Martina Hingis‘ mom, she was a junior No. 1, a U.S. Open quarterfinalist at 17 in 2014 and a top-10 player at 18. Injuries followed. Her ranking dropped to No. 318.

“There were times when you’re injured you ever wonder if you can play at this level again,” she said. “Then I also believed if I’m going to get back and healthy, I can play on this level, because I proved it so many times.”

Now 22, Bencic is having her best season, making her first Slam quarterfinal since that 2014 U.S. Open run. In addition to beating Osaka three times, she earned her first WTA Tour title since 2015 and made the semifinals at Indian Wells, considered the sport’s fifth major.

Now Bencic faces the biggest opportunity of her career as the highest seed left in the top half of the draw.

MORE: Roger Federer undecided on Olympics

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Coco Gauff’s U.S. Open run ended by Naomi Osaka

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NEW YORK — Coco Gauff‘s first U.S. Open in the main draw proved arguably as memorable as her Wimbledon run last month. It ended Saturday, when defending champion Naomi Osaka served her out 6-3, 6-0 in the third round.

Then Osaka, 21, approached Gauff, 15, and urged the youngest woman in the tournament to share the on-court victor’s interview.

“It’s better than going into the showers and crying,” Osaka, who was memorably in tears after beating Serena Williams in last year’s final, when boos for the chair umpire rained down, told Gauff. “Let these people know how you feel.”

Gauff at first declined.

“I’m not the type of person who wants to cry in front of everyone,” she said. “I didn’t want to take that moment away from her, as well.”

Gauff played her first match at Arthur Ashe Stadium and did so against the No. 1 woman in the world. She struggled with unforced errors (three times the number of her winners) and double faults (seven), while Osaka played up to her title and ranking.

Gauff ended her first Grand Slam season (in singles) having become the youngest woman to make the Wimbledon fourth round since Jennifer Capriati in 1991 and the youngest to make the U.S. Open third round since Anna Kournikova in 1996.

“I’ll learn a lot from this match,” she said. “She’s the No. 1 player in the world right now, so I know what I need to do to get to that level.

“After the match, I think she just proved that she’s a true athlete. 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.”

Osaka advanced to play No. 13 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland in Monday’s fourth round. If she makes it back to the final, she would do so without having to play a top-12 seed. But, so far, she co-authored the moment of the tournament.

“I kind of thought of it when I shook her hand,” at the net, Osaka said. “She was a little bit teary-eyed. Then I was thinking to myself, [what] the people don’t see is we go into the locker room and just cry. … She’s had an incredible week, so I thought just to make a positive statement out of it.”

Four Americans are among the last 16 — Serena Williams, seeking a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title, No. 10 Madison Keys, qualifier Taylor Townsend and wild card Kristie Ahn.

U.S. OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

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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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