LINZ, Austria -- American teenager Coco Gauff has hit a new milestone in her rapid rise up the WTA ranks, as the 15-year-old eased past former Top 10 player Andrea Petkovic of Germany, 6-4, 6-4 on Saturday, to move into her maiden WTA singles final at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz.
"This definitely has been an unreal tournament," an excited Gauff told the press, after her win. "My first final, a lot of firsts for me here, so I hope I can keep this going. I guess Linz is my special place, giving me a lot of luck and a lot of happiness here."
Gauff fell in the final round of qualifying but claimed a spot in the main draw as a lucky loser, and took that opportunity all the way to her first-ever WTA quarterfinal, semifinal, and now final with her 91-minute victory over three-time Linz semifinalist Petkovic.
"This is actually the first time in my life, including juniors, that I got into something as a lucky loser, and now I’m in the final," said Gauff. "I guess every little thing counts. You never know what it could lead to."
"Last year around this time I was playing a juniors Grade 1 [tournament], and I lost in the quarterfinals there, in Mexico," Gauff added. "It’s crazy how much a year can make a difference in improvement."
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The American faced ten break points during the encounter and was able to fend off nine of them, winning an excellent 71 percent of points on her second serve to grit her way past Petkovic in difficult moments.
"I thought this was one of the highest-level matches I played, even though it was straight sets," Gauff stated. "No game was really easy to win, I felt like, for either player. Andrea was playing an amazing match and she was hitting a lot of winners, and put a lot of pressure on me to put the ball deep. I guess I was fighting for every point, because you never know what happens."
"Maybe after these [earlier] matches, they boosted my confidence a lot," the young American added. "It kind of showed I can play at this top level, and hang with these top players."
It was Petkovic who claimed the first break of the match, taking Gauff’s opening service game with beautiful play off the backhand side. But the young American struck back straight away, firing a stunning passing shot down the line in the very next game to earn a break point, which she converted after a netted backhand by the German.
After a swift hold for 4-4, Gauff seized her moment in the opener, hitting aggressive returns and groundstrokes to clinch two break points. Another backhand miscue by Petkovic at an inopportune time gave Gauff a pivotal 5-4 lead.
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The American had no trouble taking that advantage and running with it, as she raced to triple set point in the following game. On her first opportunity, a solid serve led to a netted return by Petkovic, putting Gauff a set away from a spot in her first WTA singles final.
Gauff found herself in early peril in the second set, as she faced three break points at 2-1, but used strong defense and a handful of deft dropshots to pull herself through that game and hold on for 2-2.
The American was rewarded for her steeliness in the very next game, which went her way after a series of back-and-forth rallies. On her sixth break point of the protracted game, Gauff finally outlasted Petkovic after the German double faulted, which gave the teenager a crucial break lead at 3-2.
Gauff held onto that advantage up to 5-4, when she served for the match. The American staved off two break points with a winning volley and dropshot, respectively, then used one final dropshot to force an error and convert her second match point for another signature victory at Linz this week.
In her first singles final, Gauff will face either 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko or last year’s Linz runner-up Ekaterina Alexandrova, the No.8 seed.