Comeback Coco: Gauff rallies to win U.S. Open debut

Comeback Coco is back. Coco Gauff, the 15-year-old who authored a magnetic run to the Wimbledon fourth round, rallied to win her first U.S. Open main draw match on Tuesday.

Gauff beat a fellow former junior No. 1, 18-year-old Russian Anastasia Potapova, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 to reach the second round of the season’s final Grand Slam. This one felt different than her Wimbledon debut win over Venus Williams, or any of the other three matches at the All England Club.

“At Wimbledon, my first match, I mean, people were still rooting for me, but obviously there was, like, a lot of people rooting for Venus, where this match it was entirely for me,” said Gauff, the youngest singles player to win a U.S. Open match since countrywoman CiCi Bellis in 2014. “This is my first match where people actually had a chant for me.”

Gauff next gets Hungarian qualifier Tímea Babos on Thursday (she had to be told that she gets a day off and doesn’t have to play Wednesday).

The women’s draw has seen few major upsets — 2017 U.S. Open champion and No. 11 seed Sloane Stephens was the highest-ranked first-round loser — while four men in the top 10 were upset Tuesday.

Gauff could play No. 1 Naomi Osaka in the third round Saturday. The two practiced together about two years ago, said Osaka, who advanced in three sets Tuesday to open her title defense.

“I have actually been trying to talk to her recently, because I feel she’s a little bit like me,” said the 21-year-old Osaka, who last year became the youngest U.S. Open champion since Maria Sharapova in 2006. “This is such a good experience for her. She obviously deserves to play here.”

Gauff looked lost in the first set Tuesday evening at Louis Armstrong Stadium, the second-biggest court on the grounds with a 14,000 capacity. She had three winners to 16 unforced errors, including four double faults.

“Obviously I was nervous going out on the court,” she said. “It’s such a big court. Then my home Slam, so I wanted to do well.”

But Gauff, who threw up her hands in the direction of her player box to urge them to support her, hit reset and came back as she did in the third round of Wimbledon last month. There, Gauff became the youngest woman to make a Grand Slam fourth round since Jennifer Capriati in 1991 and became a mainstream sensation.

“It’s mostly upside,” Gauff said of the fame. “The amount of people and kids especially that come up to me saying I inspire them is honestly, I guess, better than any match I could win, just to know that I inspire another kid maybe to pick up a racket or go through something they’re facing at school.”

In other action Tuesday, the likelihood that one of the men’s Big Three wins a 12th straight Grand Slam increased significantly despite none of them playing in the day session.

That’s because next-generation stars Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas each dropped four-set matches, bowing out in the first round of a second straight Slam.

Tsitsipas’ defeat was more memorable, for he ranted against chair umpire Damien Dumusois after being called for a coaching violation and being told to speed up during a clothing change. Andrey Rublev, the 43-ranked Russian, dumped the eighth-seeded Greek 6-4, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7), 7-5.

“For some reason, you have something against me … because you’re French, probably,” Tsitsipas, who beat Roger Federer at the Australian Open en route to the semifinals, told the umpire. “And you’re all weirdos.”

Thiem went out more quietly, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 to 87th-ranked Italian Thomas Fabbiano. The Austrian had downplayed his readiness before the tournament due to a virus.

“I got very, very tired and exhausted after two sets,” he said. “I’m far away from 100 percent.”

In the spring, Thiem appeared the most likely man to break up the Federer-Novak Djokovic–Rafael Nadal triumvirate, winning Indian Wells (considered the fifth major) and reaching a second straight French Open final. He beat Federer, Djokovic and Nadal in the clay season.

Later Tuesday night, Nadal swept Australian John Millman 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. Only one other top-12 seed is left in Nadal’s half of the draw: No. 6 Alexander Zverev, who needed five sets to advance Tuesday.

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