Coco Gauff was impressive in the first tour-level match of her career on green clay in Charleston on Tuesday night, cruising past Tsvetana Pironkova, 6-3, 6-0, in the first round of the WTA 500 event.
It was also the 50th tour-level match of Gauff’s career, and she improved to 31-19 with the win.
“This is one of the few tournaments that’s on green clay, and I grew up in Florida where we have a lot of green clay, so I’m pretty familiar with this surface,” Gauff said in her on-court interview.
“I’m just happy I was able to pull through tonight.”
Pironkova was a tough first-round draw. A mother on tour currently working her way back up the rankings, the Bulgarian has been to the quarterfinals or better of Grand Slams four times before, including on the red clay of Roland Garros in 2016, and most recently at the US Open last summer.
And after Gauff jumped out to a 4-0 lead, even getting to double break point for a 5-0 lead, Pironkova began using all of that experience. She clawed back to hold serve for 4-1, broke and held again to close the gap to 4-3, and even got to double break point herself with Gauff serving at 4-3, 15-40.
But Gauff righted the ship just in the nick of time and took control again from there, winning the last eight games of the match to completely run away with it, closing it out after an hour and 12 minutes.
Volvo Car Open/Chris Smith
When asked what she was most happy with in the match, she pointed to that hold for 5-3.
“Definitely when I got to 4-3 in the first set, how I was down a couple of break points, and I served pretty well,” Gauff said. “I served the first ball into the court, so that’s what I was pretty happy about.”
It was almost a match of two halves for the 17-year-old Gauff. She had a -5 differential of winners to unforced errors in the first set, 8 to 13, including zero aces to six double faults. However, in the second set, she had a +10 differential of winners to unforced errors, 13 to 3, with four aces and zero doubles.
“[The key] was just to make the game simple,” she said. “My past matches I had leads and kind of let them go, so I went from that moment and learned from it and brought it into today’s match.”
This is Gauff’s third tour-level event on clay. She played two events on red clay last year, reaching the second round of Rome (falling to Garbine Muguruza) and Roland Garros (falling to Martina Trevisan).
Awaiting the No. 14-seeded Gauff in the second round will be No. 110-ranked Russian Liudmila Samsonova, a 6-2, 6-1 first-round winner against Japan’s Nao Hibino earlier in the day.
The two have met once before, with Gauff winning in the first round of qualifying at the indoor event in Linz in 2019, 6-7 (10), 6-2, 6-2. She would lose her next qualifying match, but get into the main draw as a lucky loser. The rest was history, as Gauff went all the way to her first WTA title as a 15-year-old.