MELBOURNE, Australia - In one of the most-anticipated first-round clashes at the 2020 Australian Open, 15-year-old Coco Gauff took down former World No.1 Venus Williams in straight sets.
The clash was a rematch of their Wimbledon opening-round battle, where Gauff announced herself to the tennis world in stunning fashion, defeating former champion Venus in straight sets to win her first Grand Slam main draw match.
"I definitely was more confident this time," said Gauff. "I think I was used to playing on big courts, so the size of the crowd didn't startle me as much as last time. I was definitely a bit more positive coming into this match this time around."
Now a WTA title holder and ranked inside the Top 100, Gauff - the youngest player in the draw - was poised beyond her years as she took on the great champion across the net in Venus, twice a finalist here in Melbourne.
Gauff stayed calm under pressure, firing 17 winners and winning 64% of points at the net en route to a confident 7-6(5), 6-3 victory.
Venus was playing her first match since October, as she had to pull out of her pre-Melbourne events after suffering a “setback” in the form of a hip injury during practice. Perhaps that bit of rustiness showed at the start of the match, when Gauff broke serve and consolidated to love to open with a 2-0 lead.
Gauff found herself wrestling with Venus for control as the set unfolded and Venus raised her level. Both players struck highlight reel worthy shots as they dragged each other all around the court and up to the net. Venus saved two set points in style to stay in the contest at 5-4, and finally erased Gauff’s one-break advantage a game later to level the score at 5-5.
With both players fully dialed in, the tiebreaker unfolded similarly to how the set played out: Gauff got ahead early, claiming a mini-break in the first point and holding on to the lead - only for Venus to get them back to 5-5. But the 15-year-old stayed calm and served out the next two points to put away the set.
Gauff took control of the second set quickly with another early break giving her a 3-0 lead. This time, however, Venus didn’t seem to have another fightback in her, and wasn’t able to match Gauff’s all-court game and speed as the match went on. The teenager’s lone break proved to be decisive, and she claimed the victory after an hour and 40 minutes on court.
Into the Australian Open second round for the first time, Gauff will take on Romania’s Sorana Cirstea next. Cirstea sprung an early upset, taking down No.32 seed Barbora Strycova 6-2, 7-6(5), earlier in the day to advance.
"My mission is to be the greatest," Gauff told reporters. "That's my goal, to win as many Grand Slams as possible.
"But for today, my mission was to win. I didn't want to let the nerves come to me. I know I had a couple set points, and she played well. I knew I had to take it from her. She wasn't going to give it to me. That was really the mission.
"I think today has been the best match so far I played this year. I was a lot more focused. Yeah, I think today really showed what I worked on in my off-season."
Williams was impressed by the teenager's ability in both their Grand Slam encounters. "I think honestly she played really well, consistently, both matches," said Venus. "So I think that was some of the similarities. She just played really well and really focused.
"She clearly wants it, works very hard, is extremely mature for her age. I think the sky's the limit for her."