MELBOURNE, Australia – Coco Gauff battled past Emma Raducanu, 6-3, 7-6(4), on Wednesday, January 18, to reach the third round of the Australian Open, but not before the two prodigies offered fans a good glimpse of what the future of women’s tennis could look like after an absorbing first clash.
A lot is expected of French Open runner-up Gauff, who at 18 is two years younger than Raducanu but has not tasted the Grand Slam success the Briton did as a teenager, and the seventh seed saved three breakpoints to win a first set she controlled.
Handed a primetime slot on Rod Laver Arena following the retirements last year of champion Ash Barty and 23-time major winner Serena Williams, the torchbearers of a new era pushed each other hard before Gauff edged ahead in the second set.
Having returned from an ankle injury suffered in a warm-up event in Auckland, Raducanu was troubled by an abs problem after being broken at 2-1 and Gauff pounced, before fending off a late fightback by the 2021 Flushing Meadows champion to prevail.
“I just told myself to hang in there,” Gauff said in her on-court interview. “Emma was playing really good tennis towards the end of the match and the whole match was great.
“In the beginning we both started off rocky but I think the match was good quality for the most part. Considering the circumstances, both of us were nervous.
“This was a long anticipated match since the draw came out so I’m glad the match was good for you guys.”
The victory – American Gauff’s 100th on the WTA Tour since her professional debut four years ago – also made her the first women’s player to reach the milestone before turning 19 since former Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki in 2009.
For Raducanu, it meant her wait to reach the third round of a Grand Slam since her US Open triumph continued, as the world No. 77 struggles on the big stage amid injury woes and coaching changes.
Her participation at the year’s first major had looked in doubt in the aftermath of her ankle issue, with Raducanu saying that she had “expedited” her recovery.
“Kudos to Emma – she had a tough week in Auckland,” Gauff added. “So it’s good for her to be able to play this level after such a scary moment.”
Gauff next takes on the winner of the match between fellow American Bernarda Pera and China’s Zheng Qinwen, hoping to win and match her best run at Melbourne Park three years ago.
Under the roof
There was less tension in the other women’s match earlier as Iga Swiatek, hot favorite for the women’s title, overcame Camila Osorio, 6-2, 6-3, under the roof on Rod Laver Arena.
“It’s not easy because with that number the expectations are a little bit higher from outside, but also for myself a little bit,” said the top-ranked Swiatek.
“I’m trying to manage that properly. Also trying to kind of stay in my bubble during the tournament so I’m not going to get distracted by all of that.
“I don’t want people to take for granted that if you’re world No. 1 that you’re going to win everything because we still have to fight for every match.”
The 21-year-old inherited the top ranking when Barty retired shortly after winning last year’s Australian Open and quickly proved worthy of the mantle, winning eight titles in 2022.
Rain kept the players off the outer courts throughout the day session, however, adding to fixture congestion triggered by extreme heat and storms on Tuesday when nine matches did not get started and two could not be completed.
Greek sixth seed Maria Sakkari had a scare on Margaret Court Arena against 18-year-old Diana Shnaider and was forced to come from a set down to beat the Russian teenager, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, over more than two 1/2 hours.
“It was a very high level from both of us, she played an amazing match, she’s very talented, very promising,” said Sakkari, before joking that Shnaider should consider giving up her college eligibility in the United States and turn professional. – Rappler.com