Gauff holds off Montgomery in teen clash

Gauff holds off Montgomery in teen clash

In a clash between 18-year-old Americans at vastly different stages of their professional careers, No.6 seed Coco Gauff defeated qualifier Robin Montgomery 6-3, 6-3 in their first-round match at the San Diego Open.

“It was the first time playing someone younger than me in probably at least seven years,” Gauff marveled after the match. “It was definitely a different feeling for me.”

Here are some takeaways from the all-teenage tussle which spanned two days:

Gauff returns to tour with aplomb: World No.8 Gauff was playing her first match since she was stopped in the US Open quarterfinals by Caroline Garcia over a month ago. But Gauff was not rusty and she exhibited her top skills while contesting her first match as a Top 10 player.

The Gauff service was on point, with three aces and additional unreturnable serves helping her win 76 percent of her first-serve points. Gauff also looked as quick as ever, with her superb defense extending rallies and forcing World No.294 Montgomery into errors.

Gauff’s mentality also impressed, as she roared back from an early break down in the first set to win four straight games and capture the opener.

Gauff also had to survive a 50-minute rain delay in the second set, followed by an overnight rain delay while up a break. But Gauff remained unbothered and needed less than 20 minutes on Wednesday to close out the victory.

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“I know Robin very well, we went on a couple USTA trips back when we were like eight years old,” Gauff said. “Pretty much friends ever since. She played really well, I expected a good level from her. … I was pretty impressed with how well she was striking the ball, it was difficult for me.

“I told her at the end of the match, maybe next time we play, it’s not in a first round match, maybe we’ll play in a final.”

Keep an eye on Montgomery: In her first match against a Top 10 player and just her fifth main-draw match at tour level, left-handed Montgomery found a bevy of winners in the first five games, from deft drop shots to powerful backhands down the line, as she broke for 3-2 to take the early lead.

The advantage did not hold as Gauff gritted her way into a dominating position, but Montgomery still looked strong in defeat, with only three fewer total winners than this year’s Roland Garros finalist. Four double faults hindered Montgomery’s cause down the stretch.

The match followed a breakthrough weekend for 2021 US Open Junior Singles champion Montgomery. She received a wild card into the qualifying, where she beat two Top 50 players, Zhang Shuai and Bernarda Pera, for the first Top 100 wins of her career.

“It was an amazing experience,” Montgomery said, after the match. “I’m really happy they gave me the opportunity to come through qualifying, and it was really great playing at this level.”

Eyes on the prize: Gauff will continue to forge ahead for the rest of the season, where she is very close to qualifying for the WTA Finals in singles (where she is currently No.4 in the Race) and doubles (she and Jessica Pegula are No.5 in the Doubles Race). One or both of those qualifications could happen this week if Gauff progresses far enough.

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First things first: Gauff will stare down a Grand Slam champion in the Round of 16 when she takes on Canada’s Bianca Andreescu, the 2019 US Open titlist. It will be the first meeting between two players who stormed onto the scene with great acclaim as teenagers.

“I think [Andreescu] is a very aggressive player,” Gauff said. “We all know she likes to step into the court and take balls early. I think it’s going to be an interesting matchup.”

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