Four months since the pair’s only other career meeting, the disparity in performance could not have been greater. At September’s US Open, a tearful Gauff had to be consoled on court by Osaka as she buckled under the pressure of the big occasion and won just three games of their encounter.
In her first outing on a packed Rod Laver Arena, the 15-year-old produced an aggressive performance, which intimidated her opponent and comfortably eclipsed her previous Grand Slam triumphs against the likes of Venus Williams in Melbourne and, before that, at Wimbledon.
After the match, the American teenager admitted her immediate goal was to get a selfie with 11-time Grand Slam winner Laver in the aftermath of the 6-3, 6-4 result, which she dominated for virtually its entire 67-minute duration.
Osaka struggled under the power of Gauff’s serving in the opening set, accruing 14 unforced errors while winning just 18% points on the Gauff first serve. She immediately dropped her opening service game in the second, sending a weak volley into the net to give Gauff a break point and then steered an easy shot well long to go 1-0 down.
But that lost game appeared to spur the Japanese player into life and she immediately broke back, and looked to be in the ascendancy in the ensuing games.
Undeterred, though, Gauff stuck to her aggressive game plan and Osaka wilted once more, Gauff breaking with ease to go 4-3 ahead, a turning point she met with a shout of “come on”. It was a lead she never looked like losing.
Two years ago at the Australian Open, she had lost in the opening round of the juniors, on her debut at the Australian Open main draw, this latest result suggested the balance of the game is shifting, and led to plaudits about Gauff’s potential.
Former world No5 Daniela Hantuchova even went as far as to say, “It’s why she’s going to be one of the greatest if not the greatest of all time.”
For all the plaudits and the maturity of her performance, Gauff was every bit that of a normal 15-year-old in her on-court interview after the win over Osaka.
“What is my life like?” she asked. “Oh my gosh. This is crazy. I love it here. Thank you guys from the bottom of my heart. I’m on Rod Laver Arena, I can’t believe this. I walked past him a couple of times in the hallways but I’ve never met him. If he sees this, tell him maybe we can set up a meet-up some time. I need a selfie for Instagram.”
Gauff landed in Melbourne with her school books and admitted that, while her peers in the main draw would be focusing solely on their next match, for her it would be a return to school work tomorrow ahead of her fourth-round encounter.
Of her studies, she added people had been accommodating about her playing exploits. She said: “My teachers are giving me some time considering the circumstances. They’re letting me submit some stuff late.”