MELBOURNE—Earlier this week, Coco Gauff revealed that when she isn’t engaged with tennis or schoolwork, she enjoys watching the app, TikTok. TikTok lets users update personal, entertainment-related videos and share them with the world. TikTok pieces typically last no longer than 15 seconds—lightning speed when compared to artist Andy Warhol’s now quaint notion that eventually everyone would be famous for 15 minutes.
Wasn’t it only one Slam ago, at the US Open, when Gauff simply made a pleasant go of it, handily beaten by defending champion Naomi Osaka, the two then sharing a collegial, teary moment? But that was then, the last major of a bygone decade. So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu.
With TikTok-like speed, Gauff commenced the ‘20s, comprehensively dismantling Osaka, 6-3, 6-4, in 67 minutes (268 TikToks). Propelled by getting in 75 percent of her first serves (compared to a meager 45 percent in their US Open match), Gauff patrolled the court superbly, her mix of movement, reasonable depth, and an improved forehand repeatedly yielding errors from a sluggish Osaka.
At the moment of truth, as Gauff served for the match at 5-4, three straight Osaka forehand service returns flew long. At 40-love for Gauff, Osaka lined a moderate rally ball into the net, her 30th unforced error of the match (to 17 for Gauff). Asked afterwards what she might have done better, Osaka offered a six-word explanation: “Put the ball in the court.”
Gauff had learned much from their US Open match, most notably when taking in the speed of Osaka’s ball. “She definitely plays faster than most players,” said Gauff. “I think at US Open I wasn't really prepared for that. And today I definitely showed that I worked on that in the off-season.”
“I feel like I get tested a lot,” said Osaka. “Like life is just full of tests, and, like, unfortunately for me, my tests are tennis matches.”
The test had become stressful at a seemingly ordinary moment. In the first set, Osaka served at 3-4, 30-15. A trio of unforced errors off the backhand handed Gauff the first break of the match. Two more came as Gauff served out the set at love.
Though Osaka recovered from a break in the opening game of the second to level the set at 1-all, there hardly was the sense of a forward bounce in Osaka’s step or subsequent tennis. Said Osaka, “I was more nervous today, because I have already beaten her once before,” said Osaka. “And, yeah, I was expecting her to play really well today, because when you play someone that's beaten you before, you really, like, it doesn't really matter, you know what I mean?” The answer is yes.
Ah, that genuine notion but concurrent illusion known as pressure. Pressure meant little to Osaka when she freely swung her way to the title here last year and reached the number one ranking. Rest assured that Osaka is skilled enough to in time recapture those moments when pressure vanishes.
But so swiftly does the tennis journey go, that while the 22-year-old Osaka will surely win more, she’ll never be young again. Osaka clearly felt the weight of expectation all week, playing constrictively in each of her three matches. “We came here to win the tournament,” she said, “and I'm sort of, like, the vessel that everyone's hard work is put into. And I wasn't able to do, like, what I was supposed to do.” These are rather world-weary words.
Meanwhile, the 15-year-old Gauff is the one playing with house money; a newcomer to tennis’ world of wonder and amazement, still surprised by all she’s encountering, earning a living playing a game and enjoying many a dance video on TikTok. Two years ago, Gauff lost here in the first round of the juniors. Over the last three Slams, she has competed on Centre Court at Wimbledon, Arthur Ashe Stadium and now, Rod Laver Arena. Now, that is a dance.
Said Gauff, “I feel like now I'm more playing, just having fun. And, I mean, winning is a cherry on top, but I'm honestly having a lot of fun on the court, even in those tight situations.” As she asked the crowd inside Rod Laver Arena tonight, “What is my life?” Maybe it’s best to keep asking than to ever find the answer.