Gauff books date with US Open champ Osaka Nadal gets walkover

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NEW YORK: Fifteen-year-old American sensation Coco Gauff set up an eye-catching US Open showdown with defending champion Naomi Osaka while Rafael Nadal´s path to the title eased further Thursday as he received a walkover into the third round.

Reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, meanwhile, crashed out early in New York for a third year running, blowing a match point in a tense three-set loss to 116th-ranked Taylor Townsend.

Gauff, who made a remarkable run to the fourth round at Wimbledon before falling to Halep, defeated Hungarian qualifier Timea Babos 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 to become the youngest player in the last 32 at a US Open since Anna Kournikova in 1996.

“It has been amazing. I´m just so happy to get through,” Gauff said as chants of her name rang out around Louis Armstrong Stadium.

“I had to dig really deep today. I´m just proud of the way I fought and I´m glad it was all worth it in the end.”

Asked about her impending clash with world number one Osaka, Gauff said her primary focus was on Friday´s doubles match with 17-year-old partner Caty McNally.

“Saturday, I´m going to think about the match, but tomorrow (Friday) I´m worried about my doubles match,” she said.

Three-time US Open champion Nadal advanced without striking a ball when injury-plagued Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis pulled out of their scheduled evening tie on Arthur Ashe with a right shoulder problem.

The Spanish 18-time Grand Slam winner will meet South Korean qualifier Chung Hyeon for a spot in the last 16.

His path to a fourth title, already helped with “Big Three” rivals Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer on the opposite side of the draw, cleared further having already seen four top-10 rivals dumped out in the first round.

Alexander Zverev, the sixth seed, is the highest-ranked player remaining on his side of the draw, as the German survived a second successive five-set marathon by outlasting American Frances Tiafoe 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 to equal his best US Open run.

  • ´Long journey´ –

Townsend upended women´s fourth seed Halep 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), the Romanian consigned to another premature exit at Flushing Meadows, having been knocked out in the opening round in 2017 and 2018.

“I was not inspired at all today, but I fought. I thought when I came back that I will take it and I will win it. But sometimes it goes the other way,” Halep said.

Townsend recovered from wasting two match points to then save one and force a tie-break she dominated to claim her first win over a top-10 player.

“This means a lot. It has been a long journey,” said a tearful Townsend, who matched her run to the French Open third round on her Grand Slam debut in 2014.

Top seed Osaka proved too strong for 53rd-ranked Magda Linette of Poland, sweeping to a 6-2, 6-4 victory.

“I feel like I had my moments where I played really well,” Osaka said. “I think the main thing for me was that I was able to adjust whenever I figured out something was going wrong, so I think I´m heading in the right direction.”

Among the celebrities watching her match at Louis Armstrong Stadium were basketball legend Kobe Bryant and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose kneeling protest became a national symbol for champions of social justice and racial equality.

“I´m really grateful they came out,” Osaka said. “It´s really cool. I honestly just wanted to finish as fast as possible because I didn´t want them to be out in the sun too long.”

Men´s fifth seed Daniil Medvedev, coming off a maiden Masters title in Cincinnati, was struck down by cramp during a 6-3, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 win over Bolivia´s Hugo Dellien.

“I´m not sure what happened today and why I started cramping suddenly,” Medvedev said. “I obviously thought at one point ´How did I win?´ I don´t know how I did.”

Stan Wawrinka, the 2016 US Open champion, beat Jeremy Chardy in four sets and is on a fourth-round collision course with Djokovic, while Australian 28th seed Nick Kyrgios rolled past 104th-ranked French wildcard Antoine Hoang 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.

Andrea Petkovic knocked out Czech sixth seed Petra Kvitova 6-4, 6-4, while 15th seed Bianca Andreescu and two-time runner-up Caroline Wozniacki also progressed.