LEXINGTON, KY, USA -- Coco Gauff picked up a winning result in her first match of the summer, fighting past fellow American Caroline Dolehide, 7-5, 7-5, to book a spot in the second round of the inaugural Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics.

"Honestly, I would give it an A," said Gauff, after being asked to grade her day's work in her on-court post-match interview. "It was my first match back since January, and even though I probably didn’t play the best tennis as possible, I think that the attitude and effort was an A."

16-year-old Gauff, the youngest player in the draw, is contesting her first event since the 2020 Australian Open, where she beat Venus Williams and Naomi Osaka en route to the round of 16. On Tuesday in Lexington, the teenage sensation survived a stern test from powerful 21-year-old qualifier Dolehide, closing out the closely-contested tilt after one hour and 42 minutes of play.

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"I’m just out here having fun," said Gauff. "Obviously, I want to win, but I’m not going to put pressure on myself to win anything. I just try my best out there on the court every day."

Gauff had eight aces during the encounter, and won a super 80 percent of points off of her first serve, as she fought back from a break down in the second set by clinching the final three games of the match to earn the straight-set win.

The victory restarts the rise of Gauff over the last 18 months, which includes her first WTA singles title at Linz last year, as well as fourth-round showings at 2019 Wimbledon and the 2020 Australian Open. Consequently, her ranking has soared from World No.685 at the start of 2019 to its current position of World No.53.

Gauff’s victory sets up a blockbuster second-round encounter with hard-hitting No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. It will be the first meeting between Gauff and World No.11 Sabalenka. 

"I’m just going to approach [the next round] the same as I do every match, wanting to win and hopefully having a good mentality out there," Gauff stated.

Gauff got off to a flying start as she claimed 12 of the first 14 points en route to 3-0. Dolehide regrouped as her power game started to click, but since Gauff only dropped three points in her first four service games, the qualifier was unable to stop the teenager from opening up a 5-2 lead.

In that game, Gauff held a set point, but a sturdy serve and a forehand winner by Dolehide combined for a one-two punch that brought her to deuce, and the qualifier went on to hold for 5-3.

Now serving for the set, Gauff faltered on her delivery for the very first time, and she quickly fell behind triple break point. On her second break point of the game, Dolehide crushed a service return to force a long error, and she had pulled back on serve at 5-4.

Gauff then had to face two more break points at 5-5, but an increasingly varied mix of aces and dropshots pulled her through that challenging four-deuce game. Now up 6-5, a winning volley combo gave Gauff two more set points, and she was able to close out the set in that game, breaking Dolehide with a backhand winner.

Dolehide recovered to earn a swift break in the opening game of the second set, and nearly grabbed a commanding lead after grasping a break point with a fierce forehand winner down the line at 2-0. Forward-thinking action by Gauff allowed her to eke out the hold for 2-1, but Dolehide still won her next three service games with ease as she raced to 5-3.

However, at 5-4, serving to level the match at one set apiece, Dolehide could not hold on. A forehand error in that game gave Gauff her first two break points of the set, and another Dolehide miscue, this time from the backhand side, allowed Gauff to tie up the set at 5-5.

Gauff zipped home from there, notching an easy hold for 6-5, then garnering two match points following an untimely Dolehide double fault. A forehand crosscourt winner by Dolehide erased Gauff’s first chance, but a long forehand by the qualifier on the second brought the match to a conclusion, and the teenager sealed her second-round spot.

2020 Lexington: 'I'm excited to play again' - Coco Gauff on return to tennis