SAN DIEGO, October 13, 2022 (by Richard Osborne)
Coco Gauff says there was a time when she never would have considered attending an extracurricular event like TwitchCon before a tournament. But that’s exactly what she did this week in her lead-up to the inaugural San Diego Open WTA 500, where she is the No. 6 seed.
For a few moments, the American was just another Gen Z lanyard-wearer, an anonymous livestreaming enthusiast (“a watcher, not a streamer,” in her words), only she just so happens to be the No. 8 ranked professional tennis player in the world. But Gauff insists her newfound ability to occasionally let go of the everyday pressures of her livelihood — something she says she discovered during her run to her maiden major final this spring in Paris — is paying dividends on the court.
“I was surrounding my life with everything based off tennis,” said Gauff, who is in both the singles and doubles draws this week. “I thought I had to focus my life solely on this, but I have other interests and it’s okay to embrace that.”
In a rain-interrupted opener that played out over two days at Barnes Tennis Center, Gauff flashed her form against another gifted 18-year-old American, 294th-ranked Robin Montgomery, who hails from the same College Park, Md., facility that produced the likes of ATP Tour counterparts Frances Tiafoe and Denis Kudla.
Montgomery had notched the first two Top-50 wins of her young career in the qualifying rounds, defeating No. 25 Shuai Zhang and No. 42 Bernarda Pera. But an upset of Gauff proved too ambitious an ask: Despite some stellar play, Montgomery fell, 6-3, 6-3, in one hour and 23 minutes.
— wta (@WTA) October 12, 2022
Gauff said she just blocked out Mother Nature’s delays and concentrated on the tennis.
“You just go with it. You can’t control the weather,” said Gauff, who saved four of the five break points she faced. “It definitely messes up your routine a little bit, but at the same time I approached the match today as if the score was 0-0. I think that’s the best way to approach it because it’s a new day and a new opportunity.”
In the wake of Serena Williams’ retirement from the sport, and with 42-year-old Venus Williams likely soon to follow, the significance of Wednesday’s matchup wasn’t lost in the moment.
“If Serena and Venus saw this today, two 18-year-olds, both African Americans, playing at the WTA 500 level, I think they would be proud,” said Gauff. “Both of us are products of their legacy. I’m grateful that I had those examples to follow. I hope that maybe I can be an example myself.”
Gauff will next face 2019 US Open titlist Bianca Andreescu of Canada in Round 2. It will be their first meeting.
Top-ranked American Jessica Pegula overcame a slow start against Rancho Santa Fe resident CoCo Vandeweghe to prevail, 6-3, 6-1. The fourth seed avenged a third-round loss to the former No. 9 and two-time Grand Slam semifinalist earlier this year on the green clay of Charleston.
“When she’s on with her serves and her returns, it’s really tough,” said Pegula, who has all but nailed down a spot at the year-end WTA Finals in Forth Worth. “My goal was just to try and attack and put pressure on her serve when I got the chance. I knew I had to serve smart and be ready for a big return. She’s got so much easy power.”
American Danielle Collins is into her third quarterfinal of 2022 thanks to a 6-2, 6-4 dispatch of Italy’s Martina Trevisan. The world No. 19, who earlier this year reached her maiden major final at the Australian Open, looked all but unchallenged early on before Trevisan found some rhythm and made it a contest.
Finishing with a bang 💥
— wta (@WTA) October 13, 2022
“She’s never going to give up,” said Collins, who converted seven of 10 break points in the one-hour, 27-minute victory. “At 5-0 in the first set, I knew that she would probably end up doing something a little bit different, try to make some adjustments with her game. She certainly made those adjustments and tried to push me back a little more. But, ultimately, the competitiveness and the fiery personality I have inside kind of pushed me to the finish line.”
For only the second time in eight career head-to-heads, Croat qualifier Donna Vekic got the best of former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, advancing to the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-2 victory. It marked a second straight high-profile upset for Vekic, who upended fifth seed Maria Sakkari of Greece in the first round.
“It was just believing in myself, that I could beat her today because I lost to her six times in a row, three times last year. The last one was really painful,” said the 77th-ranked Vekic, referring to a tight, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2) second-round loss in Montreal in 2021. “She’s a very tough opponent for me, but I really went after my shots today and it paid off.”
Switaek Swings Into Action On Thursday
You might think that given her tour-leading 57 wins and seven singles titles (Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart, Rome, Roland Garros, US Open), the world’s top-ranked woman might be running on fumes at this stage of the season. But the three-time major champion Iga Swiatek, who in a matter of weeks has globetrotted from Flushing Meadows to Ostrava, Czech Republic to the Southern California coastline, says she has energy to spare.
“Honestly, I feel great. That’s weird because I thought after so many matches I was going to feel a lack of motivation,” said the Pole, who’ll make her San Diego Open debut on Thursday against lucky loser Qinwen Zheng of China (11:30 a.m.). “I thought that when you’re winning so much, you’re not going to have other goals to reach, but, honestly, it’s the opposite because I feel like I’m more fresh. Winning keeps me really positive. I don’t waste my energy and time on coming back to a positive mindset.”
The Swiatek-Zheng clash presents a rematch of their Round of 16 encounter this spring at Roland Garros, which saw the then-19-year-old Zheng push the eventual titlist to three sets, falling 6-7 (5), 6-0, 6-2.
Several Americans will join the action on Thursday, including Coco Gauff vs. Bianca Andreescu, Madison Keys vs. Daria Kasatkina, Sloane Stephens vs. Aryna Sabalenka, and Louisa Chirico vs Paula Badosa.
R32 –  C. Gauff (USA) d. [Q] R. Montgomery (USA) 63 63
R16 –  D. Krawczyk (USA) / D. Schuurs (NED) d. A. Danilina (KAZ) / A. Sasnovich 16 64 10-4
R16 – A. Guarachi (CHI) / A. Klepac (SLO) d. A. Rosolska (POL) / E. Routliffe (NZL) 16 64 10-7
R16 –  N. Melichar-Martinez (USA) / E. Perez (AUS) d. S. Aoyama (JPN) / E. Hozumi (JPN) 64 36 10-5
R16 –  J. Pegula (USA) d. [WC] C. Vandeweghe (USA) 63 61
R16 – [Q] D. Vekic (CRO) d. Ka. Pliskova (CZE) 63 62
R16 – D. Collins (USA) d. M. Trevisan (ITA) 62 64