After her first-round victory over Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens was musing about the phenomenon that is 17-year-old Coco Gauff.

“It’s not very often that you actually see a player from very, very young and then to be as established as she is now is super inspiring,” Stephens said. “She’s a great player, great girl. I think her future is super bright.

“I look forward to seeing what she does next.”

Stephens, rest assured, has secured a VIP seat with an unobstructed view. The two Americans meet Wednesday in a highly anticipated US Open second-round match.

A year ago – without a crowd present – Gauff lost in the first round of the US Open to Anastasija Sevastova. Monday, with a supportive audience in Louis Armstrong Stadium, she broke nicely out of the box with a 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Magda Linette.

The No.21-seeded Gauff was down a set and 0-2, then proceeded to win 10 of 11 games to take control of the 2-hour, 34-minute match.

“You guys really, really, really helped me today,” Gauff said in her on-court interview. “It almost brings me to tears because I missed playing in front of this crowd so much. With everything going on in the world, the support means a lot.”

The second round isn’t likely to be an easier.

In a rematch of the 2017 US Open final, Stephens again beat Keys, her best friend on tour, 1-6, 7-6 (7). Keys led the third set-tie breaker 5-3, but Stephens came back to convert her third match point.

This season has been a real slog for Stephens. She lost five of six matches in the early hardcourt swing, had some modest success on clay and grass, reaching the fourth round at Roland Garros and the third at Wimbledon. She’s now 3-3 for the summer on hard courts.

After losing all three of her matches in Australia, Stephens said she did an entire reset, focusing on herself.

“I took care of myself, my body, my mind, just really tried to gather myself again and not really worry too much about results and what was happening around me,” she said. “I didn’t see results right away, like I still haven’t, let's just be real, I’m [No.66] in the world, it’s not like I’ve seen some dramatic, amazing thing happen.

“But I think when you are happy with yourself and inside it gives you opportunity to have that success and have those accomplishments. I think it may not happen now, it may happen in the middle or end of next year, I don’t know, but at this rate I know I’m not a bad tennis player. At some point, though, it will click.”

When asked how she turned it around against Linette, Gauff offered a similar sentiment.

“Honestly, I just decided to stop worrying about the pressure,” she said, “and just come out and have fun.”

Gauff is the youngest player ranked in the WTA Top 100, but she is not the youngest player at the US Open. That would be fellow American Ashlyn Krueger, who was born a few months later than the rising 17-year-old.

Stephens, 11 years older than Gauff, has never played against the prodigy.

“I call her Cocofina, and I have known her since she was like 8, I want to say,” Stephens said. “I’ve seen her game like, me, I feel so old because I have actually like grown up and seen her play and practice and stuff. I think the evolution of her game has been really awesome.”

Other notable Wednesday matches:

No.9 Garbiñe Muguruza vs. Andrea Petkovic

On eight occasions, Muguruza has advanced to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam singles event – but never at the US Open. Heading into Monday’s first-round match against Donna Vekic, Muguruza was 7-8 in New York – despite a marvelous 80-32 overall record in the majors.

Photo by Getty Images

It was a 2-hour, 19-minute struggle, but the 27-year-old from Spain prevailed 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) to advance.

“It’s just a Slam that historically it’s not my strongest,” Muguruza told reporters. “I was so pumped to go out there, and it was, like, two hours-something, and we were still in the second set. I was, like, `OK, it’s a good moment to close the match. So, yeah, it was a tough match. I had a lot of emotion and it was a good celebration.

 

“I feel like I have always come super-prepared, and for whatever reason my game didn’t click. But I don’t think about that now. Every year I come, I’m like, `You know what? That doesn’t matter. It’s a new year. Nobody remembers, nobody cares what happened in the past.’”

Muguruza started the season as well as anyone, holding two match points on Naomi Osaka in the fourth round of the Australian Open, then reaching the final in Doha (losing to Petra Kvitova) and winning in Dubai.

“At the beginning it took a lot of energy for me just to be in New York and handling everything,” Muguruza said. “And with the years, I learned a little bit more. I learned how to enjoy this event, which is, try to stay in a positive way. I don’t know if that’s going to mean that it’s going to go well, but I at least suffer less being in New York now than when I was 18.”

Petkovic took down Irina-Camelia Begu 6-2, 7-6 (3).

Head-to-head: 3-0, Petkovic. But they haven’t played in more than five years.

No.12 Simona Halep vs. Kristina Kucova

In some minds, Halep came into her first-round match against Montreal champion Camila Giorgi as the underdog. The two-time Grand Slam champion had played only three matches since tearing a calf muscle back in May at Rome.

In her first major since February, the 29-year-old looked sharp, defeating Giorgi 6-4, 7-6 (4) to set up this contest with lucky loser Kucova, who handled Ann Li 7-5, 6-1.

Nursing a right thigh injury, which was wrapped as it was in Cincinnati, Halep served well – one of the few areas her injuries allowed her to focus on.

“I’m happy that I can see my serve improving,” Halep said afterward, “and I can win some easy points with it. So I have been looking for it many years, but now finally I can feel it stronger.

“I’m struggling with the legs lately. But I think I have been very positive on court. I have been very confident that I have the game to play a good match, and I believed that I have a chance. So I fought for it, and I'm pleased with the way I handled the important moments.”

Kucova is a 31-year-old from the Slovak Republic who is ranked No.111.

Head-to-head: 0-0.

No.2 Aryna Sabalenka vs. Tamara Zidansek

Sabalenka was a 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-0 winner over Nina Stojanovic, while Zidansek defeated Bernarda Pera 6-4, 7-6 (4).

Head-to-head: 1-1, with Sabalenka winning the most recent match, at 2019 Eastbourne, 6-2, 6-3.

No.3 Naomi Osaka vs. Olga Danilovic

Tied 4-all in the first set with Marie Bouzkova, the defending champion ran off seven straight games and advanced to the second round with a 6-4, 6-1 victory.

Danilovic, a 20-year-old from Serbia, was a 6-3, 7-5 winner over wildcard Alycia Parks. She’s ranked No.145.

Head-to-head: 0-0.

No. 5 Elina Svitolina vs. Q Rebeka Masarova

Svitolina defeated Canadian qualifier Rebecca Marino 6-2, 6-3, and Masarova, a 22-year-old from Spain, outlasted Ana Bogdan 6-7 (9), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (9). The match ran 3 hours and 39 minutes. Masarova is ranked No.231.

Head-to-head: 0-0.

No.8 Barbora Krejcikova vs. Christina McHale

The reigning French Open champion was a 6-0, 6-4 winner over qualifier Astra Sharma. McHale handled fellow American Emma Navarro 6-1, 7-6 (5).

Head-to-head: 0-0.

No.16 Angelique Kerber vs. Anhelina Kalinina

At the age of 33, Kerber is enjoying a renaissance this summer. She won in Bad Homburg, reached the final at Wimbledon and the semifinals in Cincinnati to re-enter the Top 20. Kerber came back to beat Dayana Yastremska 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3), while Kalinina, a 24-year-old from Ukraine, was a 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 winner over Mayar Sherif.

Head-to-head: 1-0, Kalinina, a first-round win this year at Roland Garros, 6-2, 6-4.