MELBOURNE – Coco Gauff raced into the second round of the Australian Open and a clash with Emma Raducanu with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Katerina Siniakova in the opening match on Rod Laver Arena on Monday.
Gauff, seeded seventh, headed into the first Grand Slam of the year on a high after winning her third WTA title at the Auckland Classic on Jan 8.
And she wasted no time in stamping her authority on the 46th-ranked Siniakova on a cool Melbourne morning, breaking the Czech in the fourth and sixth games to take the opening set 6-1 in 22 minutes.
She had to work much harder in the second set, breaking back immediately after going 4-2 down and then again for a 5-4 lead.
The 18-year-old American secured the match in 1hr 15min on her seventh match point after a final game that lasted more than 10 minutes.
It sets up a mouth-watering second-round clash against the 2021 US Open champion Raducanu, who eased past Tamara Korpatsch of Germany 6-3, 6-2.
“I’m honoured that the tournament decided to choose me and Katerina to open on Rod Laver Arena,” said Gauff, who would be the youngest Australian Open champion since a 16-year-old Martina Hingis in 1997 if she lifts the winner’s Daphne Akhurst Cup.
“I’m really pleased with myself. Katerina’s a fighter and we saw that today. We had some excellent points in the last game but I think I just stayed mentally there.”
Raducanu was pleased with how her ankle held up in her first match since picking up an injury in the build-up to the Australian Open, saying that getting on court had eased any lingering worries she had.
The 20-year-old sparked fears she could miss the Grand Slam at Melbourne Park after retiring hurt from her second-round match at the Auckland Classic.
“Everything I’ve done has been quite controlled in the last week,” the Briton said.
“So to test it out in a real match, and with the unpredictability and stuff, just getting used to it in the beginning. But it felt good.”
Raducanu added that she was looking forward to her match against Gauff.
“I’m very up for it,” she said. “We’re both good, young players, we’re both coming through. Part of the next generation of tennis, really...
“She’s playing really good tennis and looking really solid right now. She’s a great athlete with big weapons.”
Another talented star to feature in the next round is tournament favourite Iga Swiatek, who survived a tough examination against Jule Niemeier on Monday.
The 2022 French and US Open champion was far from the fluent best that took her to a 37-match win streak last season, needing 1hr 59min to see off the dogged German 6-4, 7-5 on Rod Laver Arena.
The world No. 1 is looking to add the third leg of a career Slam of all four Majors in Melbourne but, after edging out a tight first set, was broken at the start of the second by the powerful German world No. 69.
Niemeier was coming off the biggest season of her career in 2022 when she made the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and led Swiatek by a set and a break in the last 16 at the US Open. But having broken Swiatek in the first game of the second set, the 23-year-old faltered when serving at 5-4 and Swiatek pounced to level before taking the match.
“Honestly, I wanted to be focused on myself because I know that Jule serves amazing and was really pushing, putting pressure on me,” said Swiatek, who landed only 49 per cent of her first serves.
“I’m pretty happy that I got through this match because the first round is always tricky, and I guess an opponent like Jule makes it even more tricky,” said Swiatek.
The Pole will face Colombia’s Camila Osorio in the second round.
Like Gauff, compatriot Jessica Pegula also enjoyed an easy passage, dropping just one game on Margaret Court Arena, where the world No. 3 overwhelmed Romanian Jaqueline Cristian 6-0, 6-1 in just 59 minutes.
“Today’s just one of those days, everything’s working, I think you just take them as they come throughout the year and I’ll just enjoy it,” said Pegula, who will next play Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
“It’s definitely fun coming in as a top seed, it’s a new experience for me.”
Amanda Anisimova was unable to continue the good start for American women at the first Grand Slam since Serena Williams hung up her racket as the 28th seed tumbled out 6-3, 6-4 at the hands of Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk.