Fifteen-year-old American Coco Gauff said she’s on “a mission to be the greatest” on Monday (January 20) after stunning veteran Venus Williams once again in the first round of a Grand Slam.
Gauff’s victory comes on a day when World number six Stefanos Tsitsipas played a flawless first set as he crushed Salvatore Caruso 6-0, 6-2, 6-3.
The fast-rising Gauff ranked 67 in the world, defeated the seven-time Grand Slam winner 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 at the Australian Open.
The teenager, who will play unseeded Romanian Sorana Cirstea in round two in Melbourne, similarly beat the 39-year-old Venus in the Wimbledon first round last year.
Gauff touted as a long-term successor to Venus’s sister Serena said the Williams siblings were her idols and she wants to emulate their trailblazing success.
Warning that she can still improve “a lot”, Gauff said: “My mission is to be the greatest. That’s my goal, to win as many Grand Slams as possible.”
Asked if she believes she can win her first Major over the next fortnight in Melbourne, Gauff replied: “If I go into a tournament thinking I’ll lose, then I’m going to lose. I believe I can beat anyone, but I think that’s almost every player’s mentality. The ones who are the great ones, they don’t really fear anyone. You respect your opponent, but you cant go into the match fearing someone because then you’re going to lose, and I don’t want to lose.”
Playing under a roof as rain lashed the first Grand Slam of the year, Venus conceded the first-set tie break when she hit a routine backhand overhead into the net.
Gauff, remarkably unfazed by playing someone more than twice her age, held her nerve in the second set to claim Venus’s scalp once more.
Victory over Venus at Wimbledon and her run to the fourth round there — where she lost to eventual champion Simona Halep — propelled Gauff into the sporting limelight.
She went on to win her first WTA title in October in Linz, Austria.
Venus, a former number one but now 55 in the world, is tipping Gauff for the top.
Gauff spent some of the off-season with Serena, who sailed through her Melbourne opener.
“She clearly wants it, works very hard, is extremely mature for her age. I think the sky’s the limit for her,” said Venus.
Gauff belied her tender years with her power, precision, and composure, but said that she is a typical teenager in many respects.
By her own admission, she is “very active” on TikTok, the video-sharing social media network.
“I procrastinate a lot on that app. I have to do homework. Everyone thinks I’m so serious because of my on-court (demeanour). Really I’m not. I don’t really take life too seriously, I just like to have fun,” she said, a reminder that she is still school age.
The next-gen torch bearer Tsitsipas launched his bid to better last year’s semi-final appearance at the season’s first Grand Slam.
Expectations are high for the 21-year-old, who stunned Roger Federer in 2019 en route to the final four, announcing himself as a force to be reckoned with. He went on to win titles in Marseille and Estoril before making a big breakthrough by claiming the season-ending ATP Finals in London — the youngest to do so since Lleyton Hewitt in 2001.
Tsitsipas came into the opening Grand Slam of the year on the back of a mixed build up — losing to Denis Shapovalov and Nick Kyrgios at the ATP Cup, but beating Alexander Zverev. But Italian world number 95 Caruso posed few problems for Tsitsipas, who enjoyed vocal support in a city that has a large Greek community.
“I tried to stay calm and be aggressive, I was very focused and in the zone,” said the sixth seed. “I was very happy with the first set. It was almost perfect. I can’t remember the last time I went 6-0. It was a good quality.”
The 1.93m (6ft 4in) right-hander broke the Italians opening service game to quickly take charge, sprinting through the first set in just 22 minutes and conceding just nine points.
Bidding to reach the second round for the first time, Caruso perked up in the second set, showing more backbone to win two games. But the writing was on the wall and Tsitsipas raced to victory in convincing fashion, yelling “let’s go” as he served out the match.
Tsitsipas is bidding to become the youngest Australian Open men’s singles champion since Novak Djokovic in 2008 and prove he can be more consistent at Grand Slams. But apart from his Melbourne run last year, he wasn’t a threat at the Majors, losing in the first round at Wimbledon and the US Open and in the fourth round at Roland Garros.
He said his experience in Melbourne last year still resonated with him. “I get goosebumps when I think about what I went through and I hope to experience even better this year,” he said.
(With inputs from agencies)