Sep 26th, 2019, 03:15 PM

US Open 2019: Osaka and Gauff

By Jessica Cruz
Arthur Ashe Stadium
Arthur Ashe Stadium, Photo Credit: Alexis Rael
Rediscovering Compassion in Sportsmanship

It was a Saturday night in New York on August 31 where Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff’s highly anticipated tennis match began. The Arthur Ashe Stadium had sold out, filling all 24,000 seats. But what happened after the national game will never be forgotten. Osaka and Gauff revealed an exceptional interaction that reminded us of the importance of sportsmanship and empathy within the competitive world of sports. 

It was after the game had finished, and the number one player Naomi Osaka had won the match. Osaka, now currently ranked at number four in the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) had beaten Gauff in a 65-minute match. 

But the event after her victory is what stood out to the crowd the most. Osaka took notice of the young 15-year-olds disappointment and tears starting to build up across the net and went over to console. Immediately cameras zoomed to the two girls interaction, moments before Osaka was planned to give her post-match press release. Instead, Osaka spoke gently to Gauff and encouraged her to do the interview with her. Osaka, reminding Gauff, “it’s better than going into the shower and crying. You have to let these people know how you feel.” Even though Gauff may have lost the victory, her and Osaka's impression of determinism and compassion both won the crowd.

Naomi Osaka vs. Coco Gauff - A Night to Remember; Source: youtube 

Naomi Osaka started her professional tennis career in 2013 before she was 16 years old, since then her upward athletic momentum has been nonstop. Osaka has been highly publicized ever since her Grand Slam win against Serena Williams in 2018 at the US Open.  She is now 21 years old and famously noted for her 125 mph serve. Her dynamic background has also been of large discussion as her mother is from Japan and her father from Haiti. 

But just as impressive, her opponent Cori “Coco” Gauff has been the IT girl of tennis this season. At the young age of 15, Gauff is blazing her way through the tennis scene and making her name known. She often quotes that her inspiration is the William sisters, and impressively enough in July 2019 at the Wimbledon games, she passionately dominated and won the game against Venus Williams. This win helped to lead Gauff to be the youngest woman to qualify for the main draw in the Grand Slam tournaments but it didn’t stop there. Gauff then in 2019 set yet another record for being the youngest women to reach round 3 of the Grand Slam since 1996. Tennis fans of Gauff around the globe believe she is to be the next Serena Williams. 

 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I may be the new kid, but win or lose, call me Coco. #CallMeCoco

A post shared by Coco Gauff (@cocogauff) on

But in a world dictated by the patriarchy and racial division, even after all the accomplishments and record-breaking of these young women, negative press squeezes its way into the media to disrupt the powerful strides of the young tennis players. 

Recently Osaka was faced yet again with racially belittling comments in the media. Just after Osaka participated in and in fact won the Pan Pacific Open 2019, a Japanese comedic duo referred to as “A Masso” made a comment in reference to her skin tone. They were cited as saying the female tennis player was too sunburned and “needed some bleach.” They later apologized for the insensitive comments. 

Another incident Osaka was involved with occurred back in January 2019 when the tennis players sponsor Nissin was accused of whitewashing the player in one of their ads without Osaka's permission.  

It’s clear her Japanese background has been the focus of controversy mainly pursued by the Japanese press, who even criticized and questions “how can she represent Japan when she speaks such bad Japanese”. The prejudice from her Japanese views doesn’t come as a surprise due to Japan's homogeneous culture, but one can only imagine how it affects the player on and off the court considering half the job is the players presence is press and media. 

 

Even 15-year-old Coco Gauff faces her own discrimination in the tennis realm. Within the WTA there are limits to how many games younger players can participate in at the professional level. The WTA calls this the “player development” policy. According to which 13 year olds can not play at all and 14 year olds have a cap at 8 professional events while 17 year olds can play 16. Coco Gauff, who is currently 15 years old, was given some leeway by the WTA to play 12 games as opposed to the usual 10 due to her advanced playing at the Junior level. 

But the controversial aspect of these regulations is that boys and girls are held to different policies. For 16-year-old boys or older, there are no restrictions. And 15-year-old boys are allowed 12 professional games. 

It is logical to have restrictions on younger players game time as to prevent over-pressuring them or pushing them past their physical limits. But it seems quite old fashioned and discriminatory to have this gap in restrictions for boys and girls, especially considering in the world of tennis the age 14-20 is the most important to their career. 

Even for other female tennis players, there's an abundance of criticism and penalizations to their outfits rather than their actual performance. Also important to mention, the male and female prize for the Grand Slam has just finally become equal. But for other lower classified games, prize money between genders is still unequal. 

Many of the realities of women in sports are disappointing and disheartening, but many female athletes are standing up, hopeful to gain recognition for all. 

That is why Osaka and Gauff’s moment after their match was so important. It was vulnerable, slightly awkward, but most importantly it was authentic. The two girls revealed their empathetic and human reaction that viewers don't usually get to see. Osaka's tender empathy towards her opponent showed powerful sportsmanship to remind other players the importance of hard work and dedication. “I wanted her to have her head high and not walk off the court” Osaka is quoted saying. The tenderness of their reactions revealed the true act of compassion and left a lingering sense of solidarity for the female tennis community.