Australian Open: Gauff Wins Battle Between A Superstar And A Cinderella

Coco Gauff (photo: Tennis Australia/Rob Prezioso)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 23, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

This year’s Australian Open women’s draw has showcased both superstars and Cinderellas, big names and fresh faces. Thanks to a slew of early-round upsets in the lower half of the draw, the first quarterfinal Tuesday afternoon showcased a pair of young talents, American Coco Gauff and Marta Kostyk of Ukraine. One player expected to be in the last eight on Rod Laver Arena at the start of the tournament, the other persevered through the first week and arrived as a bit of a surprise.

After battling for three hours and eight minutes under the bright, hot Melbourne sun, Gauff pulled out a 7-6 (6), 6-7 (3), 6-2 victory to advance to her second straight Grand Slam semifinal and third overall.

Gauff was far from perfect — she committed 51 unforced errors and her serve was broken seven times — but she was the stronger mental player by the end. Gauff’s resiliency pulled her through her toughest match of this Australian fortnight on a day when her tennis was not at its best. Gauff outpointed Kostyk 126-120 to earn her 12th straight win at a major.

”I feel happy and proud of the fight I showed today,” Gauff said in her on-court interview. Later, in her news conference, she added: “Yeah, it was a fight. I think today was definitely a C game, so didn’t play my best tennis but really proud that I was able to get through today’s match. Hopefully got the bad match out of the way and I can play even better.”

The World No. 4 Gauff, bidding for her seventh hardcourt title and eighth overall, has continued to shine on the major stage since winning the US Open title. Garnering her first major elevated her to a bonafide Top 10 talent. She’s off to a 10-0 start in 2024 and has already won a title at Auckland. Gauff has a legitimate chance at being the first player since Naomi Osaka (2020-21) to win the US Open-Australian Open back-to-back. She now has won 49 Grand Slam singles matches.

Meanwhile, the 37th-ranked Kostyk, now 21, over the past year has been impressive in defeating an impressive group of Top 10 talent, including: Ons Jabeur, Maria Sakkari and Caroline Garcia. She has also triumphed over fellow AO quarterfinalist Barbora Krejcikova and won her first WTA title at Austin in 2023. After losing to Gauff, she’s 7-3.

While the 19-year-old Gauff, arguably, is the more talented of the two players, both have stood out among their peers for their maturity and they aren’t afraid to speaking what’s on their mind.

I know I’m not going to be a teenager anymore, but I just feel like I’ve lived so many lives the last four years, that I just feel older than 19,” Gauff said in her news conference after defeating Magdalena Frech of Poland on Sunday. “I always knew tennis was going to be my thing.”

Gauff spoke at length about being the CEO of Team Coco, a role she has embraced.

“As each season goes, I’ve definitely been more vocal about what I want on and off the court,” she said. “Yeah, at first, like 15, 16, my parents were doing a lot of it for me just so I could focus on tennis. Now moving into more of the role. I’m getting older, having to make more decisions, all of that, on and off court.

I think for me, I know myself pretty well. I know what I need to do to succeed, not every single thing. That’s why we have coaches and people that advise me. As a player, I think all the great players kind of know what they need to do and need help from others.

“I think for me, I know what I need to do. It’s just all about having the right team to guide me into that path on how I want to do it or how I want to train or how I want to, I don’t know, work with certain brands, stuff like that. It’s definitely been a progress with each year. Adulthood is something I’m really enjoying learning. I’m not completely there, but every year I think I’m getting better and better at it.”

Meanwhile, Kostyk leaves Australia after having reached her first major quarterfinal. It’s an accomplishment she’s very proud of. She’s also found a sense of stability.

“Yeah, it’s definitely a great feeling,” she said. “I’ve worked very hard for it, so I cannot say that I’m, like, not surprised. I was always trying to find the good things, like right things, to do. I’m very happy that they’re working out. So I just want to keep going.”

Kostyk made an auspicious debut in Melbourne back in 2018 as a 15-year-old prodigy. She made the main draw after winning three rounds of qualifying as a wild card, then advanced to the third round before losing to fellow Ukrainian Elina Svitolina. Since then, she’s battled through depression and has been outspoken about her country’s war with Russia, all the while trying to live up to her potential.

Well, definitely a lot has changed. I really feel like it was in a different lifetime,” Kostyk admitted. “A lot of things have happened in the past six years. I’ve changed probably six times already.

“I always say that I think the change is always good. That means I’m not staying in one spot. Whether you feel like you’re changing in the worst way or in the better way, I think it’s good to keep all the change happening.

“Yeah, it was a hell of a journey so far already. It’s been a lot of years, and I’m very happy I still feel fresh.”

Around Melbourne Park

Fans who stuck around Rod Laver Arena for Monday’s post-match interview between Hall of Famer Jim Courier and Daniil Medvedev were in for a real treat of a masterclass. The World No. 3 from Russia walked Courier through the philosophy and evolution of his return stance. It drew much applause and some laughter, too.

“To be honest, kind of anyone could do it, but you need practice,” Medvedev quipped to Courier. “But what’s good from here, it’s very tough to hit it out. You can hit it pretty strong and many times you’re going to be surprised the way it goes in – you should try it!”

“He never disappoints in interviews,” Courier told Tennis Channel Live at the Australian Open.

“I love it. I love his questions,” an upbeat Medvedev said in his post-match news conference. “They’re always different. I wonder if he prepares them like the night before or just before. It’s always fun talking to him.

“I told him I hope that he likes interviewing me as much as I like being interviewed by him. It’s a mutual connection.

“Yeah, he seems like a super nice guy. … I really like talking to him.”

On a more serious note, Monday evening a pro-Palestinian protester was removed from Margaret Court Arena after tossing “Free Palestine” flyers onto the court. The incident happened in the third set of the fourth-round match between Alexander Zverev and Cameron Norrie. The protestor was stopped by other spectators.

Afterward, in his post-match news conference, Zverev suggested he didn’t feel unsafe but asked why it took several minutes for arena security to react.

“When something like this happens, it shouldn’t be another fan dragging the other person out,” he said. “It should be the security guys … there quite quickly.”

Norrie added: “I didn’t feel threatened or anything. It is what it is. Those things happen nowadays. I think there were a couple of fans that actually helped out. But yeah, I don’t think anyone felt threatened or anything.”

According to the Associated Press, protesters threw anti-war pamphlets onto at least two courts as well as near the entrance to Melbourne Park.

Alan Mills remembered

Alan Mills, who was Wimbledon referee for a record 23 years, passed away on January 20. He was 88.

David Law, co-host of The Tennis Podcast and a tennis radio broadcaster for BBC Five Live, remembered Mills: “Alan Mills was calm in the face of a storm — whether it be the Wimbledon weather that he navigated without the help of a roof, or John McEnroe calling him out on to the court for a ‘conversation’,” he wrote on Twitter.

“John loved and respected him. My experience was Alan was kind, welcoming and kind.”

A thank you note from Nuno Borges

Tuesday’s Australian Open results

Wednesday’s Australian Open order of play

By the numbers

“Quotable …”

“We are together for four and a half years. So, I trust her a lot. She helps me outside of the court and inside as well.

“It’s very important to trust your coach and to have this connection because when you have a tough moment, you need someone you can look and understand you without any doubts.

” I’m very happy to work with Patricia. I hope we improve, and I hope we will keep improving.”

— Quarterfinalist Anna Kalinskaya of Russia, ranked 75th, during her post match news conference Monday night, describing her experience of working with a female coach, Patricia Tarabini.