Coco Gauff is still just 18 years old, yet this year she is competing in the main draw of the Australian Open for the fourth time. She has already been around the world and back countless times, she has overcome difficult moments and put hard lessons into action. Although she stood across the net on Rod Laver Arena against a grand-slam champion in Emma Raducanu, her elder by a year and a half, as a professional tennis player she has already seen so much more.
In a slow-burning contest that saw the intensity and quality peak in the final moments, Gauff edged out Raducanu 6-3, 7-6 (4) on Wednesday night to reach the third round of the Australian Open.
“The whole match was great,” said Gauff. “We both started off rocky but I think the match was a good quality for the most part. I imagine we were both nervous.
“This was a long anticipated match up basically since the draw came out. The grand slam you have to win seven matches and when you go into the tournament you have to expect to play the best. I’m glad both of us handled the pressure pretty well. Kudos to Emma. I know she had a tough week in Auckland.”
It was a contest between two of the most high-profile young women’s players on the tour, but they arrived on Rod Laver Arena after completely different preparations. While Gauff started the season in excellent form, winning her third WTA title in Auckland without dropping a set, Raducanu sprained her ankle in the second round of the same tournament and she spent her subsequent days racing in time to be fit for the Australian Open.
As they sized each other up early on, both players were wary of the other’s weapons. Gauff has established herself as one of the best defensive players in the world and her elite movement forced errors out of Raducanu from the beginning. But just as Gauff took the first break, Raducanu responded by putting immense pressure on Gauff’s serve with her excellent returns, with Gauff eventually double faulting on break point.
The contrast between the two players was striking, with Raducanu’s early, clean shotmaking meeting Gauff’s defence and intelligence. Gauff’s movement won the early battles as she continually retrieved extra balls and forced errors out of Raducanu. The first set was settled in a long deuce game on Gauff’s serve, during which Raducanu generated two break points but each time she needed to, Gauff found a precise serve or retrieved one extra ball to hold on.
Gauff marched with the momentum at the beginning of the second set, working Raducanu over in long rallies as she established a 6-3, 4-2 lead. But as victory neared, Gauff’s faulty forehand began to leak nervous errors under pressure. Raducanu found greater balance in her shotmaking and she pulled herself back into the set. Raducanu generated two set points on Gauff’s serve, but she just could not manage her nerves when it mattered. On her second set point, Raducanu pushed Gauff back and perfectly set up the point, only to dump a drop shot into the net.
As they moved towards a second set tie-break, the intensity and quality gradually rose. Raducanu continued to dictate from inside the baseline, but Gauff flitted from corner to corner, constantly finding a way to retrieve an extra ball and eke out an error. This time, defence won through against attack as Gauff saw out a tough, chaotic battle in two sets.
Before their long awaited first meeting, both players discussed the similarities they share as youngsters who have faced significant attention and scrutiny so soon into their career. Gauff, however, noted that she cannot relate to the pressure of being a grand-slam winner. What she has done is rise towards the top of the game by competing consistently over a long period of time, winning many more matches.
In the key moments of what could be the first meeting of many, her experience was reflected in the important moments and she departed Rod Laver Arena with a deserved win. – Guardian