MATCH POINT: Gauff completes clinical performance vs. Hsieh

In her pre-tournament press conference earlier this week at the Western & Southern Open, Coco Gauff was asked what she thought of the prospect of facing Naomi Osaka in the second round. Like any seasoned pro, the 17-year-old didn’t take the bait.

“Honestly, I haven’t really thought about the match because I still have to play the match in front of me,” Gauff said. “If I start thinking about that match, I have more chance of not doing as well as I want in the match before me.”

Gauff knew that “the match before her,” against Hsieh Su-wei, wasn’t one to look past. If any opponent requires your undivided attention, it’s Su-wei, an ageless, double-handed wonder with giant-killing abilities. You can’t put it on autopilot when you have no idea what’s going to come off your opponent’s racquet next.

To her credit, Gauff was ready for everything Hsieh had to offer. She broke her serve out of the gate, and did it again to go up 5-0. Then she waited out a three-hour rain delay and picked up right where she left off. Gauff was broken just once in a 6-1, 6-2 win.

This was Gauff’s first match in Cincinnati; last year she played the tournament when it was held at Flushing Meadows and lost in the first round. It’s an interesting moment for her. With the sport’s four biggest draws—Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams—all absent this week, Gauff’s box-office value naturally rises. Today she played her singles match in the main stadium while world No. 1 Ash Barty was relegated to the second show court (the Aussie's match was later postponed due to rain). On Monday night her doubles match with Ohio native Caty McNally was watched by a full side-court crowd.


Gauff was successful on five of her six break points against Hsieh.

Gauff was successful on five of her six break points against Hsieh.

Gauff should get used to the attention. The Big 3 and Serena are going to be playing less and less in the coming months and years, and judging by the way she has solidified and improved her game in the last six months, she’s going to be going deeper at events like this, and playing showcase matches against opponents like Osaka, on a regular basis. It’s a prospect she seems to relish.

“I know when I play bigger players like [Osaka], Ash, anybody who is Top 10, I know there’s going to be more attention around it,” she said. “I’m not going to deny it. I know if I get there, people will be watching.”

“It definitely fuels me a little bit more, I will say that, because the more people talk about you, the more you feel good about yourself that people care to watch you play tennis…Those are the moments that I guess make or break you.”

Gauff’s game is looking more and more spotlight ready. She didn’t just beat Hsieh, she overmatched her in every way, and was never forced to do anything risky or out of the ordinary. She hit 10 aces, including two to save break points in the second set. She controlled the rallies simply by rolling her ground strokes deep. And even when Su Wei crossed her up or took her time away, Gauff, with her combination of fast feet and long reach, was usually able to put a racquet on the ball.

“I just wanted to concentrate on myself,” Gauff said. You can only really say that when you know your normal game is good enough to beat your opponent. Gauff’s normal game, with its natural power and stellar court coverage, is going to become harder for a lot of her opponents to match.

Will it be good enough to beat Osaka? She’s an entirely different type of player from Hsieh, and one that Gauff won’t be able to overpower. In some ways, it’s a shame this will be a second-round match; but in another way, it’s good that it’s happening at all. With tennis in the process of losing a few of its older stars, it’s time for these two younger ones to shine.