MELBOURNE, Australia (AFP) — Two of the most exciting young talents in tennis take center stage at the Australian Open on Friday when 15-year-old American Coco Gauff takes on reigning champion Naomi Osaka.
It will be just the second installment of a budding rivalry that could light up tennis for the next decade or more, having met for the first time at the US Open last year.
The 38-year-old Serena Williams still reigns over the women’s game but Osaka, 22, has been touted as a possible successor in the short term, and Gauff as the longer-term heir apparent.
They have a long way to go to get anywhere near Williams’s success and stature, but can press their claims when they meet in the third round in Melbourne.
Williams, chasing a record-equaling 24th Grand Slam title, could wait in the quarterfinals.
She was hugely impressed by what she saw in Gauff at a pre-season training camp, saying that she was “nowhere near her level at 15 either on the court or off the court, not even close.”
Gauff stunned Williams’s older sister Venus in the first round on her Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon last year, then pulled off the same trick earlier this week in Melbourne.
She is making her debut at the Australian Open and is the youngest player in the draw.
Japan’s two-time Grand Slam champion Osaka, the third seed, will be expected to win because she taught the teenager a harsh lesson nearly five months ago in New York.
On that occasion, the Japanese crushed a tearful and overawed Gauff 6-3, 6-0 in a little over an hour, also in the third round.
But after coming back from a set and 3-0 down to defeat Romania’s Sorana Cirstea on Wednesday, Gauff vowed things would be different this time.
“I think I’ll be less nervous this time,” she told the media, displaying remarkable poise for one so young.
“She plays really aggressive. This time coming in I’m going to be more aggressive.”