Match of the Day: Coco Gauff vs. Ons Jabeur, Lexington quarterfinals

Match of the Day: Coco Gauff vs. Ons Jabeur, Lexington quarterfinals

The 16-year-old upstart survived Aryna Sabalenka's raw power on Wednesday, but the rest of her game's dimensions will be tested against the skilled and unpredictable Tunisian.

Once again, Coco Gauff has made it impossible for both fans and media members to quell the momentous hype surrounding her. With her third career Top 15 victory—an exhausting 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-4 win over Aryna Sabalenka that lasted nearly three hours—Gauff proved once again why she has the makings to be the future of women’s tennis. 

Perhaps more than any other sport, tennis is guilty of anointing promising young talents as “the next big thing” far too early. But with Gauff’s blazing speed, uncanny anticipation, consistency, and most importantly, her will to win (or refusal to lose), is it even possible to overhype the 16-year-old?

Player’s game styles are so often a representation of their personality. Sabalenka’s unwavering devotion to power and aggression is symbolized by a roaring Bengal tiger tattoo on her left forearm. In her victory over the Belarusian, arguably the most powerful ball-striker on tour, Gauff illustrated sheer pace isn't enough on its own. Her next opponent, the supremely skilled and even more unpredictable Ons Jabeur, will test the rest of her dimensions as a tennis player. 

The Tunisian enjoyed a fantastic start to 2020, reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open before falling to eventual champion Sofia Kenin, and later ousted world No. 3 Karolina Pliskova en route to the final eight in Doha. Her arsenal is filled with heavy spins, angles and drop shots. Lots and lots of drop shots. 

Jabeur’s racquet skill is elite, and her drop shots are effective. Most of them look like this. 

But all too often, Jabeur uses the shot as a bail-out. In her three-set victory over Olga Govortsova, she refused to extend the point with defense, and instead went for, you guessed it, the dropper. 

If Jabeur attempts even half as many drop shots against Gauff, she’s in for a rude awakening. The 16-year-old is already one of the quickest players on tour. 

While percentage of points won when an opponent hits a drop shot is not tracked as a statistic, Gauff would likely top the leaderboard.

Gauff’s mother was a track star at Florida State University, and her explosiveness out of the starting blocks was clearly inherited. On set point against Sabalenka, Gauff was pushed out of frame, but appears to have been shot out of a cannon, smothering Sabalenka’s attempt at a drop volley. 

The oddsmakers believe this match could go either way, and list Gauff as a slight favorite. In the end, look for the composed teen's spectacular balance and footspeed to thwart Jabeur's preferred method of attack. The Gauff hype train is not slowing down, at least not come Friday.

The Pick: Coco Gauff