Naomi Osaka smacked a forehand winner into the open court, bringing Colin Kaepernick and Kobe Bryant to their feet in applause.
Osaka has power in her strokes and star power in her corner.
The defending U.S. Open champion moved into the third round Thursday with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Magda Linette, setting up a possible third-round showdown with Coco Gauff.
With Kaepernick and Bryant sitting with her team just a few rows off the Louis Armstrong Stadium court, Osaka did her part and waited to see if the 15-year-old Gauff would win her match later that night.
Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who three years ago began kneeling during the national anthem before games, has been working out in the area in hopes of getting another shot in the NFL. Bryant, the retired NBA superstar, came to the U.S. Open on Thursday to promote a new book “Legacy and the Queen” that he conceived and that Osaka has supported.
Osaka was grateful for their attendance, she said, and motivated to win quickly so she wouldn't keep them in the sun too long watching.
The No. 1 seed gave them plenty to cheer along the way, especially the forehand winner on break point that gave her a 4-3 lead in the second set after Linette had grabbed the first three games.
Gauff was scheduled to face qualifier Timea Babos in the leadoff night match on Armstrong, where she picked up her first U.S. Open main-draw victory Tuesday against Anastasia Potapova, coming from behind just as she kept doing during her run to the fourth round of Wimbledon in July.
“It's amazing at that age,” Bryant said. “Not just the skills she possesses, but the poise.”
While Osaka moved on, another two-time Grand Slam champion was eliminated when No. 6 Petra Kvitova was upset by Andrea Petkovic 6-4, 6-4. Wimbledon champion Simona Halep tried to avoid falling when she played Thursday afternoon.
Rafael Nadal and his upset-filled bottom half of the men's draw were in action Thursday, along with a number of matches that were postponed a day by the rain that wrecked most of Wednesday's schedule.
Other early winners included No. 16 Johanna Konta, who routed Margarita Gasparyan 6-1, 6-0; and No. 20 Sofia Kenin, who swept past Laura Siegemund 7-6 (4), 6-0.
Tiafoe falls in five sets
No. 6 seed Alexander Zverev keeps playing five-set matches — and keeps winning them. Frances Tiafoe? Not so much.
Zverev reached the third round at Flushing Meadows with his second five-setter of the week, edging Tiafoe 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 to improve to 5-0 in matches that go the distance in 2019.
Says Zverev: “It's usually what I do. The first few rounds at majors, I play five sets.”
Tiafoe, a 21-year-old American who grew up in Riverdale in Prince George’s County, ranked 45th, dropped to 1-8 in fifth sets for his career.
That includes losses of that length in three of his past four U.S. Opens.