Teens And Swiss Misses Reach Adelaide Semis

Coco Gauff (photo: David Mariuz/Tennis Australia)

ADELAIDE/WASHINGTON, February 25, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The semifinals of the WTA’s Adelaide International are set and there’s a distinctive theme among the final four participants: two of them are teenagers – Coco Gauff and Iga Swiatek – and two of them are from Switzerland, Belinda Bencic and Jil Teichmann.

With both of the teenagers as well as the two Swiss in different halves of the draw, Saturday’s championship match could produce an all-teen WTA 500 final for the first time since Daria Kasatkina beat Jelena Ostapenko to win the title at Charleston in 2017, when both players were 19. Or, fans could be treated to the first all-Swiss women’s final in the Open Era. Either possibility is intriguing for this early-season WTA 500-series event outdoor hardcourt event in South East Australia.

First, here’s the story of teen dreams. Gauff, 16, who emerged through two rounds of qualifying to earn a spot in the main draw, rallied from a set and 2-4 down – as well as trailing 2-4 in the decisive set – to beat fellow 53rd-ranked American Shelby Rogers, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, in one hour and 50 minutes. The victory was Gauff’s sixth straight since bowing in the second round of the Australian Open to World No. 5 Elina Svitolina in straight sets.

Going the distance and winning after coming back are nothing new to the No. 52 Gauff. According to the WTA, of Gauff’s 38 WTA main draw and qualifying victories, 14 have been three-set wins and 10 of those have been after she’s lost the first set.

“The first set she came out swinging and I didn’t; I couldn’t really play it safe because she was punishing me for hitting the ball short,” Gauff said during her post-match press conference, describing how she managed to pull out her victory against Rogers.

“So, that set just went by super quickly. I kind of went down also in the second set and I just kept fighting for every point, really. I knew I needed to be aggressive if I wanted to win and I think I kind of stepped up in the moments where I needed to. …

“I think I do pretty well under pressure. There’s going to be matches where I always don’t get it when I need to and there’s going to be matches where I’m not able to come back, but I think under pressure I think I play pretty well and make the right decisions. I probably play better under pressure than I do in the lead sometimes.”

Meanwhile, the 19-year-old Swiatek didn’t experience quite the same kind of pressure that Gauff did. That’s because she reached her third WTA tour-level semifinal after her opponent, American Danielle Collins, was forced to retire with a lower back injury. The No. 37 Collins trailed 6-2, 3-0, after 61 minutes. The Roland Garros champion, seeded fifth in Adelaide, hit 17 winners and won all 10 points on Collins’s second serve.

The subject of a possible all-teen final came up in Swiatek’s press conference. She was asked what she made of all of the attention being heaped upon Gauff. “Everybody has [a] different journey, so I don’t know how it is for her,” she said. “Everybody’s like growing up in a different way, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. So, I don’t want to speak about it’s hard for her. For sure, it’s a great achievement, we’re going to see from her how it’s going to go and then for me we’ll see how it’s going to go.”

Now for the story of the Swiss Misses. First, No. 61 Teichmann squandered five match points during a second-set tie-break against No. 56 Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia in the opening quarterfinal on Memorial Drive’s Centre Court. However, she saved two of her own while serving at 4-5 in the third set. Ultimately, Teichmann prevailed on her seventh match-point opportunity to win 6-4, 6-7 (8), 7-5 in two hours and 57 minutes to advance against Swiatek with a berth in her fourth WTA final riding on the outcome.

Teichmann hit 35 winners to overcome her 49 unforced errors, while Sevastova hit 22 winners but committed 60 unforced errors. Teichmann outpointed her opponent 122-116. After securing match point, no less relieved, she celebrated her quarterfinal triumph by kissing her racquet.

Finally, the No. 2 seed Bencic fought off the heroic challenge of 292nd-ranked Australian qualifier Storm Sanders to win 6-2, 6-4 by saving eight of nine break points she faced. Bencic hit 25 winners to 21 unforced errors to advance to the semifinals against Gauff.

“She played amazing and I knew she was going to be a really difficult opponent,” Bencic said of the crowd favorite Sanders, during her on-court interview that followed her win in one hour and 33 minutes.

“I had a hard time getting used to her, how she plays, because I never played her before and she’s still kind of unknown. So, I’m sure we’re going to hear a lot [more of her] and it was a great tournament for her, so congratsto Storm.

“But I’m just generally really happy; I’ve won two matches here and I’m just getting my confidence back and I’m here in the semifinals.”

Thursday’s Adelaide International results

Friday’s Adelaide International order of play

What they’re saying

Iga Swiatek was asked about the burden of expectation after winning her first major title at Roland Garros last October. She said it helped because the coronavirus pandemic prevented her from having a celebration in front of a large crowd:

“I know it’s different because we have a pandemic. So, I didn’t see like a lot of people around, because at that time we had like many restrictions and it was impossible for to get like big gatherings. I mean, we still have restrictions, it’s different than here. But I can see like a lot of support, like by media and TV and I feel like people really saw me for the first time and I gained popularity. So, it was actually good that the pandemic is here, because it was really good for me and I could try to learn how to deal with it step by step. It’s going to be probably different when the pandemic is over, but I have this experience now.”

• After losing to Danielle Collins in the second round Wednesday evening, Ashleigh Barty, responded to the demanding Australian sporting public, who expects her to win every time:

“We bring the right professionalism, we prepare the right way and then the result is, it just is what it is.It’s not always going to go your way, you can’t win every single tennis match, but you can sure as hell approach it the right way. And I think for my team and for me we did that this week and we just didn’t quite get that result that went our way.”