Gauff Wins Her First US Open Night Session Match In A Thriller

NEW YORK, August 30, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

American teen sensation Coco Gauff and Hungarian qualifier Timea Babos provided a New York crowd packed into Louis Armstrong Stadium with plenty of thrills on Thursday night. When it was over, nearly two and one-half hours after it began, the 15-year-old Gauff emerged with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 victory over Babos to advance to Saturday’s third round of the US Open and a matchup against No. 1 seed and defending champion Naomi Osaka.

Earlier Thursday, the World No. 1 Osaka advanced with a 71-minute victory over 53rd-ranked Magda Linette of Poland, 6-2, 6-4.

The 140th-ranked Gauff, whom ESPN2’s Chris Evert said had a “Top 10 serve,” finished with nine aces and won 83 percent of her first-serve points. After splitting the first two sets and remaining on serve through the first nine games of the decisive third set, the American wild card finally broke through and won the final game of the match to advance.

Although both Gauff and Babos each hit 32 winners, Babos was undone by her 41 unforced errors.

“It was great,” said Gauff in describing her feelings after her win during her post-match news conference. “I thought that the first set, I definitely was in control. In the second set, (Babos) raised her level and I wasn’t able to finish the set. But she played amazing. I thought I played well, too. It was a great match.”

Gauff became the youngest woman to reach the last 32 at the US Open since Anna Kournikova’s run to the round of 16 in 1996. She’s looking forward to her next challenge, facing Osaka.

“Obviously (Osaka is) an amazing player,” said Gauff. “She’s defending champion, she’s won two Slams. She’s No.1, she’s only 21. We’re both pretty young, but I’m a little bit newer to the game. So I’m just curious to see how my game matches up against her. Obviously I want to win. I just want to enjoy it, have fun, enjoy the battle. We’ll see how it goes.”

As the women’s draw has pared down to 32 players from the original 128 who started the year’s final Grand Slam four days ago, there was one major upset on Thursday. Reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep lost to 116th-ranked American qualifier Taylor Townsend, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), in a featured Thursday afternoon on Arthur Ashe Stadium.  It was the 23-year-old Townsend’s biggest win in her career – her first Top 5 victory – after going 0-10 against Top 10 players. She lost two match points on her serve in the 10th game of the third set, only to see Halep win three straight games, before Townsend won the match in a deciding tie-break.

Townsend finished the match with 39 winners and won an incredible 63 of 105 net points.

“This means a lot. It’s been a long journey,” she said, fighting back tears during a TV interview on court after her victory. “I had a match point against (Kiki) Bertens at Wimbledon. I’ve had a lot of close matches this year, I just haven’t been able to get over the hump. This match gives me so much confidence that I can do it.

“When I’ve played (Halep) before, I was just trying to make balls. I think I played not to lose, and today, I played to win. I just told myself, ‘It’s an opportunity, it’s a chance,’ and to go for it.”

Halep praised Townsend during her post-match news conference. “I really think that she played great. She was very inspired of every ball. She came a lot to the net and didn’t miss much. It’s unbelievable,” she said. “She played really well. She really deserved to win it because she gave everything and she didn’t think of losing. She went all the way with 100 percent belief.”

Townsend’s next opponent will be 106th-ranked Sorana Cirstea of Romania, who defeated 100th-ranked Aliona Bolsova of Spain, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.

As evident by Halep’s early exit, the depth and quality of the upper half of the women’s draw has been causing some fits for established stars. After Halep barely escaped her first-round match on Tuesday, winning a gritty three-setter over American Nicole Gibbs, she suggested in her post-match news conference that a level playing field is a good thing for the sport.

“I feel we are very equal,” said Halep. “Anyone can win any tournament, even the Grand Slams. That’s why we have different winners. Now, you never know what is going to happen during the tournament. Every match is tough: first round, second round, doesn’t matter. It’s the same level.”

For instance, sixth seed Petra Kvitova lost in straight sets to 88th-ranked Andrea Petkovic of Germany, 6-4, 6-4, and 36th-ranked American Alison Riske, who took out two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza on Tuesday, fell to former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, 6-4, 6-3.

Next, Ostapenko will face another American in former Stanford All-American Kristie Ahn, who beat Anna Kalinskaya of Russia, 6-2, 6-3, to reach the third round. Ahn is currently ranked No. 141. The 20-year-old Kalinskaya had eliminated 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens in her first round Tuesday night.

With losses by both Halep and Kvitova, the highest-ranked player remaining in this quarter of the draw is No. 15 Bianca Andreescu. The 19-year-old Canadian took out 110th-ranked lucky loser Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, 6-3, 7-5. Next, Andreescu will face off on Saturday against No. 19 seed Caroline Wozniacki from Denmark, who beat No. 35 Danielle Collins of the United States, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Arthur Ashe Stadium at about the same time Gauff was dazzling her audience next door on Armstrong.

As the third round begins on Friday, if a player other than Osaka or No. 2 seed Ashleigh Barty wins the US Open, it will mark the third straight year without a multiple major winner. Indeed, there’s a new era unfolding in women’s tennis, one in which parity rules.

Here’s how the women’s round of 32 shapes up, which includes eight matches featuring a seeded player versus another seeded player:

No. 1 Naomi Osaka vs. Coco Gauff
No. 21 Anett Kontaveit vs. No. 13 Belinda Bencic
Yulia Putintseva vs. No. 23 Donna Vekic
No. 26 Julia Goerges vs. No. 7 Kiki Bertens
Taylor Townsend vs. Sorana Cirstea
No. 19 Caroline Wozniacki vs. No. 15 Bianca Andreescu
Kristie Ahn vs. Jelena Ostapenko
No. 25 Elise Mertens vs. Andrea Petkovic
No. 5 Elina Svitolina vs. No. 32 Dayana Yastremska
No. 20 Sofia Kenin vs. No. 10 Madison Keys
No. 16 Johanna Konta vs. No. 33 Zhang Shuai
Ons Jabeur vs. No. 3 Karolina Pliskova
No. 8 Serena Williams vs. Karolina Muchova
No. 22 Petra Martic vs. No. 12 Anastasija Sevastova
Fiona Ferro vs. No. 18 Wang Qiang
No. 30 Maria Sakkari vs. No. 2 Ashleigh Barty