Australian Open 2020

Tennis: Driven gauff won't be so nervy

American teen prodigy Coco Gauff returning to Romania's Sorana Cirstea at the Australian Open yesterday in Melbourne. She will play Naomi Osaka, the defending champion, in the third round for the second straight Grand Slam event. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE
American teen prodigy Coco Gauff returning to Romania's Sorana Cirstea at the Australian Open yesterday in Melbourne. She will play Naomi Osaka, the defending champion, in the third round for the second straight Grand Slam event. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

'Nothing to lose' for US starlet as she sets up blockbuster rematch against holder Osaka

MELBOURNE • Coco Gauff may be slow and nervy while learning to drive. But the 15-year-old warned defending champion Naomi Osaka that she is one tough off-roader who will not be overawed in their Australian Open clash tomorrow.

The prodigy celebrated wildly after fighting back to defeat Romania's Sorana Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 yesterday to set up a mouthwatering third-round tie.

It is a repeat of their US Open third-round clash last year, when Japan's Osaka triumphed 6-3, 6-0 in just 65 minutes. She consoled a tearful Gauff with a hug and asked the teenager to join her in the on-court interview.

Gauff may not be 16 until March, but she does not expect to shrink again in the limelight.

"I think I'll be less nervous this time. I think US Open I was nervous," said the American, playing only her third Grand Slam event but touted as a long-term successor to idol Serena Williams.

"It was my first time on Ashe (Arthur Ashe Stadium, centre court in New York).

"We're both familiar with each other's games. She plays really aggressive. This time coming in I'm going to be more aggressive."

Gauff, who stunned Venus Williams in her Melbourne opener in just 97 minutes in a repeat of her win over the seven-time Major winner at Wimbledon last year, said she has "nothing to lose".

But it is a mantra that she struggles to carry into other parts of her life, especially as a learner driver.

"Honestly, the first time I drove on a highway was really nerve-racking for me," said Gauff, who has two younger brothers.

"My older younger brother, he gives me good criticism when it comes to driving. They get mad when I drive slow. I don't understand. I'm driving (at) the speed limit, but that's slow for them."

  • SELECTED RESULTS

  • MEN'S 2ND RD

    Tennys Sandgren (USA) bt Matteo Berrettini (Ita) 7-6 (9-7) 6-4 4-6 2-6 7-5, Tommy Paul (USA) bt Grigor Dimitrov (Bul) 6-4 7-6 (8-6) 3-6 6-7 (3-7) 7-6 (10-3) Roger Federer (Sui) beat Filip Krajinovic (Srb) 6-1 6-4 6-1, Marin Cilic (Cro) bt Benoit Paire (Fra) 6-2 6-7 (6-8) 3-6 6-1 7-6(10-3), Novak Djokovic (Srb) bt Tatsuma Ito (Jpn) 6-1 6-4 6-2.

  • WOMEN'S 2ND RD

    Ashleigh Barty (Aus) bt Polona Hercog (Slo) 6-1 6-4, Julia Gorges (Ger) bt Petra Martic (Cro) 4-6 6-3 7-5, Petra Kvitova (Cze) bt Paula Badosa (Esp) 7-5 7-5, Ons Jabeur (Tun) bt Caroline Garcia (Fra) 1-6 6-2 6-3, Caroline Wozniacki (Den) bt Dayana Yastremska (Ukr) 7-5 7-5, Serena Williams (USA) bt Tamara Zidansek (Slo) 6-2 6-3.

On the court, she is the opposite. The teenager was two points from defeat in the deciding set against 74th-ranked Cirstea, who at 29 is nearly twice her age.

But she hung in and grabbed the crucial break in the 11th game of the third set, pumping her fists and screaming "Come on!" after burying a ferocious overhead smash.

The clash of the most exciting young talents is a treat for fans and Osaka kept her end of the bargain with a 6-2, 6-4 defeat of China's Zheng Saisai.

The former world No. 1 let her frustrations boil over at one point, throwing and kicking her racket.

But Gauff had only praise for the way the 22-year-old treated her in New York last year.

"It just shows what being a competitor really is. You might hate the person on the court but, off the court, you love them," she said.

"Sometimes when we're on the court, we say things we don't mean. When it's all said and done, we still look at each other with respect."

Osaka, meanwhile, offered a light-hearted apology to her racket sponsor Yonex and admitted she had been "childish".

"I mean, my racket just magically flew out of my hand," she told reporters with a smile.

"I couldn't control it. Sorry, Yonex. I think that's how I dealt with my frustration.

"It was a bit childish."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2020, with the headline 'Driven gauff won't be so nervy'. Print Edition | Subscribe