ROME, Italy - In her first tour-level main draw match on clay, 16-year-old American Coco Gauff scored an opening victory over Ons Jabeur in the first round of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, 6-4, 6-3.
Contesting just her seventh professional tournament on clay, Gauff had played just one WTA event on the surface, falling in the qualifying rounds of the French Open last year. A direct entry at the Premier 5 event in at her current ranking of World No.53, Gauff battled back from a 4-2 deficit in the opening set to beat the Tunisian No.1 for the second time since the tour's restart.
After first round losses at the Western & Southern Open and US Open to Maria Sakkari and Anastasija Sevastova, respectively, Tuesday's match proved much less complicated for the American than her three-set win over Jabeur at the Top Seed Open presented by Bluegrass Orthopaedics in Lexington last month, in which she rallied from a set and a break deficit.
"I'm definitely happy to get a win today especially after a couple of tough losses back in New York," Gauff said after the match.
"I'm just happy to be playing. I think Ons played great today. She's a tricky player because she definitely changes the ball a little bit. I knew it was going to be tough, so to get a win over her on clay was really good."
Gauff overcame seven double faults in the 80-minute victory, and took advantage of 29 unforced errors from the Tunisian's racquet. Trailing 4-2, at 30-30 on her serve, Gauff ran off four games in a row to steal the opening set, and ultimately won seven of eight games en route to building a set and a break lead.
"I think I was just trying to stay in the match and I knew I was able to come back whenever I needed to. I was familiar with her game so I knew her tendencies, so I just tried to play towards her weaknesses using my strengths," Gauff said.
"I haven't played on clay in over a year, but to be honest, I feel quite comfortable on clay. In my junior career, I had quite good results on clay and I go to Patrick Mouratoglou's tennis academy a lot... I'm quite used to the red clay."
Jabeur, whose variety around the court and deft use of the drop shot helped build her early lead, grew more erratic off the ground as the match wore on.
Serving for a 4-1 lead in set two, Gauff handed back the break with consecutive double faults, and it seemed as though the Tunisian would climb back into the match as she built a lead in her next service game.
Undaunted, however, Gauff dug in to see off the match in straight sets. After the pair again traded breaks, the American teenager won eight of the last 10 points to seal her place in the second round.
Up next, Gauff will face former World No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza, who defeated Sloane Stephens in straight sets in the last match of Tuesday's schedule.