YOUNG TALENT Cori “Coco” Gauff left the Australian Open to a standing ovation at the Melbourne Arena on Sunday (January 26), having spluttered out to fellow American Sofia Kenin in three sets.
It was her service game that ultimately let her down to stumble to a damning 6-7(5) 6-3 6-0 defeat, winning just two of the final 11 games.
Following her success over defending champion Naomi Osaka on Friday, when her serves were pretty perfect coupled with a rarely seen erratic performance from the Japanese ex-world no.1, the pressure was firmly on the 15-year-old to reproduce her form against Kenin.
But Gauff’s quest, to become the youngest Grand Slam quarter-finalist for 15 years, came crashing down and left her in tears following the final point.
Her opponent, just six years her senior, was also in tears at the end. But these were tears of joy after she secured a place the last eight at major for the first time.
Gauff composed herself to explain courtside following the disappointing defeat: “I’m doing well right now at 15. I still have so much I feel like I can get better on.”
The Florida-based teenager, playing in only her third Grand Slam main draw, was out-of-sorts against Kenin and outmanoeuvred from the very start.
Kenin, who hit the headlines for shocking compatriot Serena Williams at last year’s French Open, took the opening two games and eased into a 4-2 lead.
Gauff then turned on the style after hitting her only purple patch. Her rapid speed around court returned, she controlled points with thunderous baseline shots and thumped a string of angled winners to level matters at 4-4.
Her power game put Kenin on the ropes, edging to set point at 6-5. Kenin cautiously saw off the danger and was gifted the lottery of a tiebreak by her opponent.
Yet Kenin choked in the tiebreak, she sent down a pair of double faults and despite staving off five set points slipped behind overall.
But Kenin bounced back to win the early break in the second set, as Gauff double-faulted three times to drop serve in the fourth game,
With Gauff’s game desperately falling to pieces, her confidence seemingly shattered by her inability to serve well, errors started to creep in.
The usually fearless rising star failed to produce winners like earlier, with the second set lamely slipping away.
Despite the majority of the crowd vocally willing on Gauff, she was unable to claw herself back into the now one-sided encounter as her naturally tenacious approach was not working in her favour.
Kenin, who completely dominated the final set in 33 minutes, cupped her face with both hands to fight back the tears after securing success on her second match point.
Gauff, whose seemingly trademark of breaking down in tears after suffering a Grand Slam defeat returned, at least received a standing ovation as she marched off the court.
Although the ambitious Gauff will be bitterly disappointed not to have made further progress Down Under, the good news is that next week she will reach a career high of being world ranked within the top 50 on the WTA Tour.