If you’re on the hunt for friends who are kind, thoughtful, and extremely supportive, you should consider hanging out with female tennis players.
Their reputation as the nicest people in sports was cemented on Saturday, when Naomi Osaka beat Coco Gauff in straight sets at the U.S. Open. After winning, Osaka invited a clearly emotional Gauff to join her for the encore interview with ESPN.
Wiping away tears as the audience cheered for her, Gauff had nothing but praise for her opponent in recapping the experience: “She did amazing, and I’m going to learn a lot from this match.” Then she told Osaka, “And she’s been so sweet to me, so thank you for this. Thank you.”
At a press conference later, a more composed Gauff said she was so emotional after the match that she had been reluctant to address the crowd, but Osaka “told me that it’s better than crying in the shower.”
Osaka’s behaviour highlighted her sportsmanship, Gauff added. “She proved that she’s a true athlete. For me, the definition of an athlete is someone who on the court treats you like their worst enemy, but off the court can be your best friend. And I think that’s what she did today.”
Osaka, 21, said her invitation to Gauff, 15, was “instinctive.”
“When I shook her hand [after the match], I saw that she was kind of tearing up a little. It reminded me how young she was,” she said, adding that she hopes Gauff is able to “take care of herself” with so much media scrutiny focused her way.
“I just thought about what I wanted her to feel leaving the court. I wanted her to have her head held high, not walk off the court sad. I want her to be aware that she’s accomplished so much.”
Osaka displayed just as much humility about her own victory when she beat her idol Serena Williams to capture the US Open last year.
That was the match where Williams railed against the officiatiant (and was criticized with racist and sexist language and imagery for standing up for herself). Some fans who were also angry with the calls booed Osaka’s win.
Williams defended her opponent and told the crowd to stop booing a tearful Osaka and celebrate her win.
“She played an amazing match and she deserved credit, she deserved to win. And at the end of the day, that’s what it was,” Williams said.
And sportsmanship was in focus again just last month in Toronto when Williams suffered an injury and withdrew from the Rogers Cup final. The winner, Canadian Bianca Andreescu, was quick to express her respect for Williams. “You are truly a champion on and off the court,” the teen said as she accepted the trophy.
Williams, too, was deferential. “I’m officially a fan,” she told reporters. “She’s only 19 — she definitely doesn’t seem like she’s a 19-year-old. Her words on court, her game, her attitude, her actions, that’s what I mean.”
The sports world can often involve intense competition and large egos, but it’s so refreshing when athletes can actually give one another mutual respect and unwavering support.
Thank you, women of tennis, for showing the rest of us how it’s done.