By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Coco Gauff shone on her Australian Open debut on Monday as she knocked Venus Williams out of the first round in a repeat of her stunning victory over the seven-times Grand Slam champion in the Wimbledon opener last year.
The 15-year-old American sensation, 24 years Williams’ junior and the youngest player in the draw, eased to a 7-6(5) 6-3 win in the clash of generations at Margaret Court Arena, her first main draw appearance as a direct Grand Slam qualifier.
“I definitely was a lot more confident this time,” Gauff, who beat Williams 6-4 6-4 at Wimbledon as a qualifier, told reporters.
“I think I was used to playing on big courts, so the crowd — I guess the size of the crowd didn’t startle me as much as last time.”
Gauff was born the year after Williams lost the 2003 Australian Open final to younger sister Serena. She grew up idolizing the Williams sisters, who have shared 30 Grand Slam trophies between them.
But Gauff is determined to plot her own path to greatness and all respect was put aside as she broke Venus in the opening game and marched to a 5-3 lead in the first set.
Williams, ranked world number 55 and in the twilight of her career, summoned her two decades of experience at Melbourne Park to break back and force a tiebreak.
In a point-for-point battle, the 39-year-old fought gamely to share the support of the terraces but she ended up gifting the set to her schoolgirl opponent when she struck an overhead smash into the net.
Gauff duly pounced, breaking Williams in the second game of the second set to roar to a 3-0 lead, showcasing her court speed and formidable power for a player of her age.
Pounding down four first serves in succession, Gauff wrapped up the match in style with a drop-shot.
“She played well, like I said,” Williams told reporters.
“Just played very focused and put a lot of balls in the court. That’s what you have to do. She’ll play well the rest of the event.
“She clearly wants it, works very hard, is extremely mature for her age. I think the sky’s the limit for her.”
Gauff, who reached the fourth round at Wimbledon and the third at the U.S. Open, has already been tipped for Grand Slam trophies.
“Anybody who doesn’t think she’s going to win a Grand Slam has to have their head examined,” 18-times Grand Slam title winner Chris Evert said pre-tournament.
“She’s got it all … and she’s going to cause some upsets for sure this tournament, the Australian Open, I predict.”
Gauff will face Romanian Sorana Cirstea, who earlier beat Barbora Strycova 6-2 7-6(5), for a place in the third round.
Gauff underlined her maturity with thoughtful, confident answers during her post-match media conference but also gave a reminder that she is still only a teenager, admitting she spends too much time on the popular video-sharing app TikTok.
“I procrastinate a lot on that app,” she said. “I have to do homework. I’m still procrastinating on that.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)