Tennis

Osaka storms into third round at U.S. Open

Kyodo, AP

Top seed and world No. 1 Naomi Osaka advanced to the third round of the U.S. Open after defeating Poland’s Magda Linette on Thursday.

Osaka beat the No. 53 Linette 6-2, 6-4 in their second-round match at Louis Armstrong Stadium to set up a third-round contest with 15-year-old American Coco Gauff.

“I had my moments where I played really well and of course there were moments that I didn’t play as well as I wanted to,” Osaka said. “But I think the main thing for me was that I was able to adjust whenever I figured out something was going wrong, so I think I’m heading in the right direction.”

Although Osaka was unstoppable in the opening set, converting both of her break point chances and comfortably serving out for the lead, her opponent appeared poised for a second-set comeback.

Linette raced out to a 3-0 advantage and created a double break opportunity in the fourth game, but Osaka managed a critical hold to begin turning the set around. She then reeled off four more games in a row and secured the match with one last service hold.

“I think I played a little bit too defensively so I just told myself to look in the mirror and notice that I’m the player that’s supposed to be more aggressive,” Osaka said.

In two previous matches against Linette, Osaka had lost once but came out on top in their last meeting in January’s Australian Open, where she went on to claim her second straight Grand Slam title.

After her shaky win over Russia’s Anna Blinkova in the first round on Tuesday, the 21-year-old said “I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous in my life.”

Proving her captivating run to Week 2 at Wimbledon was no fluke, Gauff improved to 5-1 in her nascent, two-tournament Grand Slam career by edging Timea Babos of Hungary 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

“This is just the beginning, I promise,” Gauff told the appreciative crowd that serenaded her with “Let’s go, Coco!” at the final changeover.

When play resumed, Gauff broke Babos’ serve to end a second consecutive three-set win.

“I was thinking, like, maybe they feel like I’m Golden State in Game 7 or something. It’s different, because you’re an individual player, so it’s weird, I guess. Most of the time you hear the chants, it’s for a whole team, not just for, like, me,” she said. “So it was pretty cool.”

Not since Anna Kournikova did it 23 years ago had someone who was 15 made it this far at Flushing Meadows.

Gauff covered the court so well, tracking down shot after shot from Babos, running so fast and so fearlessly that she ended up face-down on the court after falling.

She pounded serves, recording nine aces, and mixed in drop shots, passing winners and all manner of other magic to great effect.

Another young American woman made some noise, too: Taylor Townsend, 23, whose pure, raw emotion came through after she delivered one last crisp forehand volley to complete her 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) upset of two-time major champion Simona Halep.

Townsend, a qualifier ranked 116th, clenched her fists, raised her arms and yelled, “Yes! Yes!” before patting her heart. Moments later, Townsend’s voice cracked and tears began to flow as she told fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium, “It’s been a long journey. Just haven’t been able to get over the hump.”

Townsend pulled off the biggest victory of her up-and-down career with an entertaining, net-rushing, serve-and-volleying brand of lefty tennis against former No. 1 Halep.

In the men’s draw, Yoshihito Nishioka lost his second-round match to Feliciano Lopez of Spain 6-7 (7-9), 6-0, 6-4, 6-4. The world No. 59 had defeated American Marcos Giron on Monday to get past the opening round for the first time since 2015.

Second-seeded Rafael Nadal advanced to the third round with a walkover after second-round opponent Thanasi Kokkinakis pulled out before their match with a right shoulder injury.

Marin Cilic, the 2014 champion, has moved into a third-round matchup of big servers against John Isner with a 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 victory over Cedrik-Marcel Stebe.

The 22nd-seeded Cilic overcame 11 double-faults with the help of 13 aces against Stebe.

Nick Kyrgios had a relatively easy victory in his first match since saying the ATP was “corrupt,” beating Antoine Hoang 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 to reach the third round.

The No. 28 seed wrapped up the match in just under two hours.