Osaka and Gauff will go toe-to-toe again (Picture: Getty)

For the second Grand Slam in a row, Naomi Osaka and Cori “Coco” Gauff will meet in the third round.

Four months on from Osaka’s routine 6-3 6-0 win at the US Open in New York, the pair will likely take to the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne to do it all again.

Both players are tipped for greatness and this is still just the early stages of a rivalry that has the potential to be the focal point of the women’s game over the next decade.

Gauff has surged into the third round on her debut in Melbourne (TPN/Getty Images)

Osaka, 22, has two Grand Slam titles to her name. Gauff, 15, became the youngest Wimbledon qualifier in the Open Era before beating her idol and compatriot Venus Williams in the first round – something she’s also done in Melbourne this week – and has reached at least round three of every Slam she’s contested.

Their first encounter was lesser remembered for the 66 minutes of tennis but instead the emotional scenes after the tie.

An emotional Gauff was invited to address the Ashe crowd by Osaka in a joint post-match interview with tears aplenty.

‘I wanted her to have her head high, not walk off the court sad,’ Japanese No. 1 Osaka said in New York. ‘I want her to be aware that she’s accomplished so much, and she’s still so young.’

As was the case under the lights of the Arthur Ashe Stadium, Osaka is the defending champion but world No. 67 Gauff is confident she won’t be overawed on this occasion.

‘I think I’ll be less nervous this time,’ said Gauff. ‘At the US Open I was nervous. It was my first time on Ashe.

‘For sure I’ll be more confident because I’ve felt her ball before. We’re both familiar with each other’s games. She plays really aggressive. This time coming in I’m going to be more aggressive.’

Since that last meeting Gauff became the youngest WTA title winner since 2004 in Linz and once again showed her immense battling qualities by clawing her way back from 3-0 down in the decider against Romania’s Sorana Cirstea to set up a tie with Osaka.

This may be her Australian Open debut but there is little surprise at her run to this stage of a major – testament to the talent and mental strength she possesses despite her youth.



Australian Open routes so far

Gauff

R1: 7-6 6-3 Williams
R2: 4-6 6-3 7-5 Cirstea

Osaka

R1: 6-2 6-4 Bouzkova
R2: 6-2 6-4 Zheng

‘It’s exceptional what she is doing at 15 years old – her maturity is exceptional,’ Seven-time Grand Slam champion Justin Henin told Eurosport. ‘We almost forget her age.

‘It’s amazing, it’s going fast, it looks like she can deal with it. We saw her against Venus Williams when she took her chances. Her serve is very athletic, but sometimes she does get nerves.’

However, Henin would be surprised if she ended Osaka’s title defence.

‘Naomi Osaka is at the top of the game, so she is more experienced, she has won Grand Slams.

‘Coco Gauff is one of the players we are going to talk a lot about in the future, she has the potential to be world number one, that’s for sure.

‘But still, the difference right now is very important. On one day, you never know what is going to happen, but I still put Osaka as the favourite.’

It’s hard to disagree. While the future is bright for Gauff, she is far from the finished product. Osaka, by contrast, is at the peak of her powers and is capable of overwhelming any opponent on a hardcourt.

Prediction: Osaka in 2





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