MELBOURNE, Australia -- In the first meeting between two of the most promising young Americans on the WTA, No.14 seed Sofia Kenin overcame a stern test from 15-year-old Coco Gauff, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-0 to reach her first-ever Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open.
"Obviously it meant a lot to me," Kenin said, in her post-match press conference. "I was just so happy to have won. It was a tough match. I knew [Gauff is] playing well. I was just really happy with the way that I was able to handle my emotions and just fight through every point."
Kenin and Gauff, who were each seeking a maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance, battled in a highly competitive clash for two hours and nine minutes, but in the end, it was 21-year-old Kenin who was sturdier down the stretch to reach the elite eight at a major event for the first time.
"I want to show who I am, show my best tennis, show why I'm there, why I belong," said Kenin. "I'm doing that."
Despite losing a tight first set, Kenin was very solid holding her serve, winning nearly three-quarters of points on her first delivery and only dropping serve a single time during the affair.
"I knew it was a few minor details [in the first set]," Kenin stated. "I felt like I wasn't returning so well. I missed a few opportunities. Of course, she served really well.
"I knew I needed to somehow try and break her serve and hold my serve. I think I served pretty good overall, which obviously helped me. Yeah, I'm happy I was able to do that because her serve, it wasn't easy."
World No.67 Gauff, who shocked defending champion Naomi Osaka in the previous round, outnumbered Kenin in the winners department by 39 to 28. However, Kenin ended the clash with a cleaner sheet, as the seeded player had just 22 unforced errors while the teenage sensation blasted 48 miscues.
"I'm definitely going to savor this and continue to kind of build and get better to work for moments like this, moments like that last match," Gauff said, in her post-match press conference. "Even today, even though I lost, I still had a lot of fun. I mean, now looking back, I'm not as disappointed anymore."
"Even though I double-faulted today a lot, but my serve is definitely better," Gauff stated. "I think my return is better. I think I moved forward. I'm happy with how I moved, transitioned, like the baseline to the net. I'm happy how I've been doing that this week. It's something I want to continue to improve on for my next tournaments."
Kenin used blistering backhands to claim the early lead in the first set, breaking Gauff in the opening game before maneuvering to a 3-1 advantage. The Gauff service game started to click there, though, and she hit three aces in her next two service games to stay just a single break behind.
At 4-3, Gauff grasped an opportunity to get back on serve, after Kenin’s forehand started to go awry. The seeded player misfired off of that wing to drop serve, and Gauff’s comeback to parity was complete. The teenager then claimed her first set point at 6-5 with a forehand winner, but Kenin erased that with a crosscourt forehand winner of her own, as the duo moved into a decisive tiebreak.
In the breaker, two untimely double faults by Kenin helped to give an increasingly forward-moving Gauff a 5-2 lead, and after another forehand winner by the teenager, Gauff held four more set points. Deft shot selection by Kenin allowed her to gutsily save three of those chances, but the fifth time was the charm for Gauff after a netted backhand by Kenin.
Kenin, though, was unfazed after the loss of the opening frame, and she once again clinched the early lead in the second set, breaking for 3-1 on her third break point of that game after a rally forehand error from Gauff. The Kenin groundstrokes stayed solid as she powered her way to a quick consolidation and a swift 4-1 lead.
Mission Accomplished 🇺🇸— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 26, 2020
Superlative tennis from 14th seed @SofiaKenin to def. Coco Gauff 6-7(5) 6-3 6-0 to advance to her first ever Grand Slam quarterfinal!#AO2020 | #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/Q3Rg4Nx9vy
Gauff faced a set point at 5-2, but powered her way to a hold with a series of down-the-line winners, reaching 5-3 and putting the pressure on Kenin to try to tie up the match. Kenin was up to the task, methodically moving to triple set point, then forcing an error from Gauff with a crosscourt backhand on her second set point to level the match at one set apiece.
Kenin progressed with her momentum in the decider, claiming a break in the very first game with a nifty winning lob. The No.14 seed continued to pick up games with aplomb, converting her third break point of the third game to grasp a 3-0 lead, then consolidating for 4-0 as her beautiful backhand found another winner down the line.
At 5-0, Gauff’s vaunted steeliness came into play, as she saved a match point to push the game to deuce. The teenager, though, was unable to pull off another superb three-set fightback, as Kenin used yet another big backhand to garner a second match point, then finished off the match after one final error by Gauff.
Kenin will now face Ons Jabeur of Tunisia in the quarterfinals, after Jabeur eliminated No.27 seed Wang Qiang of China to reach her own maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal. Either Kenin or Jabeur will advance to her first-ever Grand Slam semifinal. Kenin has won both of their meetings at WTA-level.
"I've played [Jabeur] in Mallorca last year," said Kenin. "I know her game pretty well. She's playing well."
"It was funny, after the match, we're both biking next to each other," Kenin continued. "She's like, 'Good job.' I'm like, 'You too.' It was fun, a funny moment.
"She's like, 'Are you feeling tired?' 'No, I'm good.' She's like, 'Yeah, me too.' I'm like, 'Okay, I'll see you on Tuesday then!'"