Gauff, Osaka to meet in 3rd round

Antelope Valley Press - - SPORTS - By HOWARD FENDRICH

MEL­BOURNE, Aus­tralia — Plenty was go­ing badly for Coco Gauff in the sec­ond round of the Aus­tralian Open.

The dou­ble-faults kept com­ing Tues­day, nine in all. The deficits, too: First, she dropped the open­ing set against 74thranked So­rana Cirstea. Then, af­ter forc­ing a third, Gauff fell be­hind by a break, ced­ing 14 of 16 points with a series of mis­takes. Later, af­ter get­ting even at 3-all, Gauff was a mere two points from a loss.

None of that mat­tered. As she al­ready keeps show­ing, over and over, Gauff is not a typ­i­cal 15-year-old. Not a typ­i­cal ten­nis player, ei­ther. And by get­ting past Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in a lit­tle more than two hours, she now has set up yet another Grand Slam show­down against Naomi Osaka.

Less than five months af­ter their mem­o­rable meet­ing at the U.S. Open — Osaka won that one in straight sets, then con­soled a cry­ing Gauff on court and en­cour­aged her to ad­dress the spec­ta­tors — the two will meet again. Like that time, Osaka is the ma­jor’s reign­ing cham­pion and Gauff is mak­ing her de­but at the tour­na­ment.

“I know what to ex­pect,” said Gauff, who elim­i­nated

seven-time Grand Slam cham­pion Venus Wil­liams in the first round Mon­day. “I’m ex­cited for a good match.”

She was not at her very best on a windy day against Cirstea but man­aged to fig­ure her way out of trou­ble re­peat­edly. Gauff demon­strated plenty of grit, yes, and also en­thu­si­asm, pump­ing her­self up by shak­ing a fist and yelling, “Come on!” af­ter most of her suc­cess­ful points down the stretch.

Late in the third set, Gauff was told by the chair um­pire that a serve she hit didn’t count be­cause Cirstea had in­di­cated she wasn’t ready to re­ceive the ball. Gauff said she never looks at an op­po­nent be­fore serv­ing and asked for a head’s up next time.

When the point was played for real, Gauff won it and, from up at the net, stared in Cirstea’s di­rec­tion and yelled. There was plenty more of that sort of cel­e­brat­ing the rest of the way, and Gauff was sup­ported by a Mel­bourne Arena crowd that chanted, “Let’s go, Coco! Let’s go!”

Her fa­ther, Corey, was an­i­mated in the stands, too, ex­cept when he was squeez­ing his eyes shut at crit­i­cal mo­ments.

There were sev­eral of those for his pre­co­cious daugh­ter, who was ranked only 313th last year when she be­came the youngest player in his­tory to qual­ify for Wim­ble­don, then wound up beat­ing Wil­liams there en route to the fourth round.

It is a mea­sure of her cameso-soon star­dom that Gauff was play­ing at Mel­bourne Park’s third-largest sta­dium Tues­day, even though this was a matchup be­tween a pair of play­ers ranked out­side the top 60 and with one ca­reer Grand Slam quar­ter­fi­nal be­tween them, more than a decade ago (Cirstea made it that far at the 2009 French Open).

In­deed, ev­ery Grand Slam sin­gles match — “ev­ery” be­ing a rel­a­tive term, of course, be­cause this was No. 9 — of the 67th-ranked Gauff ’s nascent ca­reer has been placed on a show court.

This was the first main draw match at a ma­jor for Gauff in which she held a bet­ter rank­ing than her op­po­nent.

Didn’t seem that way at the out­set: Gauff dropped the first set. Af­ter forc­ing things to a third, she trailed 3-0. Af­ter mak­ing it 3-3, Gauff needed to get through one more gutcheck: Twice, she was two points from depart­ing.

But the Amer­i­can teenager broke in the next-to-last game, then held to win.

How did Gauff get through this test?

“Just my will to win,” she said. “My par­ents, they al­ways told me I can come back, no mat­ter what the score is.”

Other win­ners in­cluded de­fend­ing men’s cham­pion No­vak Djokovic — he re­quired all of 95 min­utes to breeze past Ja­panese wild-card en­try Tat­suma Ito 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 — women’s No. 1 Ash Barty and two-time ma­jor cham­pion Pe­tra Kvi­tova, the run­ner-up to Osaka in Aus­tralia a year ago.

Osaka worked through some frus­tra­tions Tues­day by grab­bing her racket with both hands and chuck­ing it to the ground, toss­ing away a ten­nis ball and kick­ing the racket along the court, to boot.

Then she plopped her­self down on her side­line seat and draped a towel over her head. Soon, she was gath­er­ing her­self and de­feat­ing Zheng Sai­sai 6-2, 6-4.

Associated Press

LET’S GO! — Cori “Coco” Gauff of the U.S. re­acts af­ter win­ning a point against Ro­ma­nia’s So­rana Cirstea dur­ing their sec­ond round sin­gles match at the Aus­tralian Open ten­nis cham­pi­onship in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, on Tues­day.

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