TEENAGE TENNIS ace Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff came of age at the Australian Open with an emphatic straight set success over Japanese no.1 Naomi Osaka on Friday (24 January).
The 15-year-old made no mistake against the former world no.1 to drum up a comprehensive 6-3 6-4 3rd round triumph, with her service game firing on all cylinders.
America’s rising star had to be hugged and consoled by Osaka after being thrashed in September’s US Open, and following such a one-sided encounter there were questions asked by former players as to whether the precocious talent could eventually become a Grand Slam champion.
Yet in only her third major main draw the fearless teenager silenced any critics by reeling off the important points with aplomb to sensationally send the defending champion tumbling out during the opening week Down Under.
Her dream debut at the Australian Open continued with a mature and composed display from the start of her rematch with Osaka, having scooped just three games last time.
Gauff eased into the opening set and made the first break of serve to lead 5-4, after Osaka rushed her backhand return into the net.
Japan’s normally calm and astute play was lacking, and she repeated her uncharacteristic backhand unforced error to gift the teenager the opening set on the Rod Laver Arena.
With Gauff having found her rhythm on her serve, an area that often lets her down because she tends to be overzealous, she was brimming with confidence from having seen 82% of her fericious first serves land in to trouble her opponent.
An erratic opening game to the second set was captured by Gauff, Osaka once more handing her opponent the advantage with a tame unforced error – this time a half-hearted volley thumped into the net.
Over confidence from Gauff allowed her to be broken immediately back, which got the crowd excited as they were anticipating a three-set thriller from two of the most talented players on the WTA Tour.
The fans were not disappointed as Osaka briefly lifted her game to seize control and lead 3-2. But Gauff bounced back to level matters on her serve to love.
However, Oaska’s fluidity suddenly deserted her and she slipped up on her own serve to trail 4-3 in a tense game littered with errors.
Gauff’s tremendous serving ability, her biggest asset throughout this encounter, once more saw her hold to love to steer herself within a single game of progressing to the last 16.
Osaka held to put the pressure on the rising star to serve for the match. Yet Gauff made no mistake to slam down her serves in style and drum up three match points, with a further backhand error ending the Japanese star’s defence of her only major title.
Standing between Gauff and a quarter-final berth next week will be either no.14 seed and compatriot Sofia Kenin or China’s Zhang Shuai.
Gauff enthused courtside, following her victory: “Two years ago I lost the 1st round in the Juniors and now I’m here, this is crazy. I was just telling myself, one point at a time and to keep fighting as you never know what happens on this court.”
The teenager is the first American player for 30 years to have reached the 3rd round in their inaugural three Grand Slam main draw appearances, but on the evidence of slaying her latest victim it appears it won’t be long before she breaks more records.