| By New York Tennis Magazine Staff
Photo credit: USTA/Mike Lawrence
Photo credit: USTA/Mike Lawrence

Being 15-years-old can be the awkward phase in life for many people as you begin the transition from being a kid to being a young adult.

But don’t tell that to Coco Gauff.

Under the brightest of spotlights and on the grandest of stages, the poised American youngster continues to impress as she advanced to the third round of the US Open Thursday night, defeating veteran Hungarian Timea Babos 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 inside Louis Armstrong Stadium. 

“I had to dig really, really deep and just tell myself to keep fighting, and I’m so proud of how I fought,” said Gauff on-court afterwards. “I’m so proud to be an American playing here in New York City!”

The unflappable Gauff once again found herself in a three-set battle, after coming through the first-round by way of a comeback over fellow teenager, Russia’s Anastasia Potapova, in her opening round match. After Babos rallied to win the second set and force a deciding third on Thursday, Gauff didn’t flinch. 

A couple of errors in the opening game of the decider put Gauff back on her heels as Babos had multiple opportunities to break. But Gauff gutted out a hold, a crucial one to begin the final set. 

Gauff was put to the test again at 2-2, saving a couple of more break points. With each break point that evaporated, the crowd become more energized and so did Coco. 

“For me, it’s still wild,” she said afterwards. “This is the first time--well, not the first time. The first round was the first time I actually had a chant, but today it was a lot louder and a little more consistent. I was thinking maybe they feel like I’m Golden State [Warriors] 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. So it was pretty cool.”

As the third set went deeper, the “Coco” chants got louder. Both players managed to trade games through the first nine, and after a Gauff hold at love for 5-4, it was up to Babos to answer with a hold of her own. At 30-30, she slashed a beautiful drop volley to set up match point, which was followed by a Babos backhand into the net, and Gauff had her second straight US Open main draw win. 

“It was great,” said Gauff, who has “Call Me Coco” written on her shoes, and her parents donning shirts that read the same mantra. “I thought that the first set, I definitely was in control. In the second set, she 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.”

An overnight star following her run to the Wimbledon fourth round just over a month ago, Gauff has backed up that performance thus far in Flushing Meadows. While many young players oftentimes fold under pressure, few players have had this sort of spotlight on them at such a young age, Gauff thrives on it. She is already must-see television, and because of all that attention, she finds herself in Night Sessions on the biggest courts in the world. 

“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,” she said. “So today I was prepared and knew what to expect. I think that helped me in today’s match.”

She now enters what is one of the most intriguing matches of the tournament, as she gets set to take on world number one and defending champion Naomi Osaka. The top-seeded Osaka pushed through in straight sets in her second-round clash with Magda Linette on Thursday.

“Obviously, she’s an amazing player. She’s defending champion. She’s won two slams. She’s number one ... she’s only 21. We’re both pretty young,” Gauff said of Osaka. “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 and enjoy the battle. We’ll see how it goes.”

Gauff has demonstrated she has the maturity and temperament well beyond her years, not to mention a lights-out tennis game that has already catapulted her into stardom. 

You can call her talented, you can call her composed and you can call her a star ... just make sure you Call Her Coco.