AUCKLAND (AFP) – Teen sensation Coco Gauff started the new year in dominant form at the WTA Auckland Classic yesterday while veteran Serena Williams’ path became a little easier before she even stepped on court.
Gauff was unflustered by two double faults as she negotiated a blustery wind in her opening service game against last year’s semi-finalist Viktoria Kuzmova.
She recovered to hold serve and then immediately broke Kuzmova on her way to taking the first set 6-3 before racing through the second set 6-1 to wrap up the match in 61 minutes.
“Playing in the wind was a bit tough. I’m just glad I got through it,” said Gauff who impressed with four aces and cashed in with four out of four break points while saving three out of three on her own serve.
Williams, who had won six of her 23 Grand Slams before Gauff was born, is scheduled to meet the 15-year-old prodigy in the quarter-finals if they both win their first two matches.
The 38-year-old Williams was drawn to play another Grand Slam winner, Svetlana Kuznetsova, in the first round but the Russian pulled out on Monday with a viral illness.
Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion, was also a late cancellation, citing “personal reasons” while Canadian world number five Bianca Andreescu pulled out last month because of an ongoing knee injury.
Williams, who will now play Italian qualifier Camila Giorgi in a first-round match today, had a tough time in the wind at her previous appearance in Auckland three years ago, losing in the second round.
But she had a chance to get used to the conditions yesterday when she teamed up with Caroline Wozniacki in the doubles and cruised to a 6-2, 6-4 win over Japanese pair Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya
Slovakian Tamara Zidansek produced the one upset on day one when she beat sixth seed Rebecca Peterson of Sweden in a tightly contested match 7-6 (9/7), 7-6 (7/5).
The only other seed in action, Caroline Garcia, needed more than two-and-a-half hours and three sets to overcome American Taylor Townsend.