Fifteen-year-old prodigy Coco Gauff set up an Australian Open blockbuster with defending champion Naomi Osaka on Wednesday (January 22), as Serena Williams screamed and shouted her way into the third round alongside Swiss master Roger Federer.
On a day when men’s seeds tumbled, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic strode towards his eighth Melbourne title and soon-to-retire Caroline Wozniacki lived to fight another day.
American teenager Gauff, showing a tenacity which is becoming her trademark, clawed her way back from a set down to beat the experienced Sorana Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Gauff, who bellowed and pumped her fists as she completed her victory, said her “will to win” had got her through the tough second-round match at a windswept Melbourne Park.
“My parents always told me you can always come back — no matter what the score is,” said Gauff, who beat seven-time Grand Slam champion, Venus Williams, in round one.
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Gauff also beat Williams on her Grand Slam debut last year at Wimbledon, and in another quirk, she faced Osaka in the US Open third round, going down meekly in straight sets.
Japan’s Osaka, 22, beat China’s Zheng Saisai 6-2, 6-4 but briefly lost her cool mid-match, hurling and kicking her racquet when she gave up a break in the second set.
“I was thinking that I really don’t want to play a third set this time,” explained Osaka, who is defending a Grand Slam title for the second time.
Former world number one Wozniacki, playing her final tournament before retiring, came from behind in both sets for a 7-5, 7-5 win over Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine.
Serena Williams shouted at the top of her voice during a testing second set against 70th-ranked Tamara Zidansek, before seeing off break points to win 6-2, 6-3.
“She was a really good fighter — she did not just let me win,” said Williams, who can equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slams if she lifts the trophy.
Wind ‘massive factor’
Earlier, Australia’s world number one Ashleigh Barty raced through 6-1, 6-4 against Polona Hercog, buoying hopes of a first home winner since 1978.
“It was very different end to end, I think the wind was a massive factor particularly with the new ball,” she said.
Djokovic also weathered the breeze — which followed heavy rain on Monday, and smog from bushfires last week — to beat Japanese wildcard Tatsuma Ito 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in 95 minutes.
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“They were tough conditions, pretty windy and it was hard to know where the balls were going. My serve helped a lot to get me out of trouble,” said the Serb.
Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas was handed a slice of fortune when Philipp Kohlschreiber withdrew injured.
In other results, Petra Kvitova, last year’s runner-up, came through 7-5, 7-5 against Paula Badosa of Spain, and China’s Zhang Shuai ousted American Caty McNally 6-2, 6-4.
Former US Open champion Marin Cilic won a five-setter against French seed Benoit Paire, and one-time semi-finalist Milos Raonic beat Chile’s Christian Garin in straights.
Tennys Sandgren, engulfed in controversy over his political views and right-wing links during his run to the 2018 quarter-finals, took the biggest scalp so far when he ousted eighth seed Matteo Berrettini in five sets.
Sandgren’s fellow American Tommy Paul also pulled off a five-set upset when he beat Bulgarian 18th seed Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 7-6 (8/6), 3-6, 6-7 (3/7), 7-6 (10/3).
And Australia’s John Millman further trimmed the number of high-ranked players when he ended the campaign of Polish 31st seed Hubert Hurkacz.
Among eight first-round matches held over from Tuesday, after rain wiped out half of Monday’s schedule, Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro, also retiring this year, upset Belarusian 11th seed Aryna Sabalenka in straight sets.
Also read: Australian Open: Gauff stuns Venus, Tsitsipas upsets Caruso
Meanwhile, ruthless Federer said he had “plenty left in the tank” as he kept intact his 20-year record of reaching at least the third round of the season’s first after crushing Serb Filip Krajinovic.
The six-time champion first played at Melbourne Park in 2000 and has gone on to make the semi-finals or better on 14 occasions, with no exits before round three.
The 38-year-old third seed dominated the 41st-ranked Krajinovic 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 on Rod Laver Arena, stretching his record over him to 4-0.
Federer, who is bidding for a seventh title to match Novak Djokovic’s record, and his first since 2018, came into the tournament without playing a warm-up event but has nevertheless looked ominous.
“Very happy, been a great start to the season,” he said as he moved a step closer to a 21st Grand Slam title. “I feel really relaxed on court. I’ve trained hard and you always hope it pays off.”
Asked if he felt sorry for Krajinovic, he replied: “I do feel a bit sorry, but you’ve got to take advantage of it.” Over his two matches so far Federer has dropped just 13 games, and admitted he preferred easy early encounters rather than tough battles to preserve energy.
“I prefer this much more than overcooked. As easy as it looks, there’s always the effort, trying to extend the lead,” he said.
“Of course, it’s not quite the same stress level if you’re down a set or a break or two sets, whatever it may be. I prefer it this way because you have always extra left in the tank if you need it.”
He faces a tougher assignment next against Australian John Millman, who beat him in four tough sets at the 2018 US Open.
Also read: Australian Open: Osaka, Serena, Federer give winning start to Grand Slam
“He’s fit like a fiddle. I’ve lost to him in the past… he’s from this country so naturally also it’s going to be different intensity. I think this is going to be a good test for me.”
Federer raced through his opening service game against Krajinovic then broke straightaway when the Serb fired a backhand long.
The Swiss was in immaculate touch early and moving well, exhibiting his full repertoire with some deft drop shots and quality groundstrokes.
It was a lightning start and he broke again then held for 5-0 before the Serb finally got on the scoreboard, only to see Federer serve out the first set in just 20 minutes.
With a steely look in his eyes, he broke again to take a 1-0 lead in the second set. But Krajinovic, who made two finals last year, regrouped and managed to work a break point at 2-3, but couldn’t convert. He got another opportunity at 3-4 and this time didn’t waste it.
Clearly irked, Federer broke straight back with the Serb taking his frustrations out on his racquet, smashing it into the ground.
A double fault from the demoralised Krajinovic handed Federer a break to go 1-0 ahead in the third set and there was no way back against a man operating in a different sphere.
Despite his age, Federer remains a competitive force and won four singles titles last year.
But he failed to add another Grand Slam title with his closest call coming in the Wimbledon final, where he lost a five-set epic to Djokovic.
(With inputs from agencies)